José Uribe expected to testify in Menendez trial

Until recently, Jose Uribe was an obscure New Jersey businessman who had been involved in what prosecutors say was a vast and lucrative corruption scheme involving Sen. Robert Menendez and others.

But after Mr. Uribe pleaded guilty in March to trying to bribe Mr. Menendez and agreed to cooperate with authorities, he rose to a more important position: the government’s star witness.

On Friday, Mr. Uribe is expected to testify against Mr. Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, in federal district court in Manhattan, prosecutors said, as the senator’s corruption trial ends its fourth week.

The senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, are accused of conspiring to accept cash, gold bars and other bribes collectively worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for the release of Mr. Menendez’s agreement to direct aid to Egypt and meddle in New Jersey’s criminal cases. One of these cases involved Mr. Uribe.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York say Mr. Uribe, a former insurance broker who worked in the trucking industry, sought the senator’s help to avoid criminal investigations that the office of the New Jersey Attorney General led on two of Mr. Uribe’s associates. In exchange, according to an indictment, Mr. Uribe helped buy Ms. Menendez, then the senator’s girlfriend, a new Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible worth more than $60,000.

“I knew that giving away a car in exchange for influencing a U.S. senator to end a criminal investigation was wrong,” Mr. Uribe said in court when he pleaded guilty, “and I deeply regret my actions.”

Mr. Menendez, 70, is on trial with two other New Jersey businessmen — Wael Hana and Fred Daibes — charged with conspiracy. MS. Menendez, 57, was also indicted, but Judge Sidney H. Stein postponed her trial until July because she is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Uribe is expected to appear a day after the jury hears testimony from Gurbir S. Grewal. Mr. Grewal was New Jersey’s attorney general in 2019 when prosecutors say Mr. Menendez contacted him hoping to secure investigations into Mr. Uribe’s associates were dismissed.

Mr. Grewal, who now heads the enforcement division of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, was tested Thursday over his summons to Mr. Menendez’s office in Newark. During that meeting, he said, the senator raised complaints about how Hispanic defendants linked to the trucking industry were being treated by prosecutors in the Mr. Fraud Unit case. Grewal’s insurance.

Mr. Grewal said that when he asked whether the senator’s concerns were related to a specific matter pending before his office, Mr. Menendez said yes. Mr. Grewal said he immediately stopped the conversation.

“I didn’t know about the case. I didn’t want to know about the affair,” he tested, adding: “It’s not something I wasn’t comfortable talking to him about.” »

Mr. Uribe’s potentially central role in the government’s case was underscored Thursday evening when prosecutors wrote to Judge Stein, asking that they be allowed to show the jury Mr. Uribe’s formal agreement to cooperate with the government . Prosecutors say they want to counter virulent attacks on Mr. Uribe’s friendship by Mr. Menendez’s lawyers.

In an opening statement last month, Avi Weitzman, the senator’s lawyer, told the jury that the defense team intended to show Mr. Uribe is not a trustworthy witness.

“We’ll have a lot to talk about at the end of the case about him, about his lies and his cheating and his crimes and all the ways he was incentivized to continue to commit all of these crimes,” Mr. Weitzman told the jury.

This is the second time Mr. Uribe has pleaded guilty to a crime. More than a decade ago, he admitted to collecting $76,000 in insurance premiums but failing to obtain coverage for seven clients, all commercial drivers. He was sentenced in New Jersey to probation and stripped of his insurance broker’s license.

A seven-page cooperation agreement that Mr. Uribe and his lawyer signed in March says prosecutors will seek leniency for Mr. Uribe when he is sentenced only if he tests true and complete.

Prosecutors say in the letter that Mr. Uribe’s testimony is particularly important because the government plans to have him testify about his texts and conversations with the senator, his wife and others “who, at least in some cases, are coded or subject to interpretation.

The insurance fraud case seemed to consume Mr. Uribe, according to dozens of text messages he sent to Ms. Menéndez and Mr. Hana.

“I need peace,” Mr. Uribe said in a text message to Ms. Menendez in September. 3, 2019, at 10:17 p.m. The next morning, Mr. Menendez called Mr. Grewal to arrange the meeting according to prosecutors.

Mr. Uribe appeared to have advance knowledge of the meeting. “Thank you for everything you do for me. “I pray,” he wrote in a text message to Ms. Menendez minutes before the senator’s scheduled meeting with Mr. Grewal, “today’s meeting is in GOD’s hands. “

One of the people involved in the fraud investigation pleaded guilty in April as part of a deal that required no prison time, according to the indictment.

But it was clear from text messages Mr. Uribe said in fall 2019 that at least part of the legal issue continued to vex him.

In late October, Mr. Uribe asked Ms. Menendez if she had an “update” for him. “I just need some peace.” Sorry to bother you,” he wrote in a text message.

The next day, October. On the 29th, the senator called Mr. Uribe from his office in the Senate, according to evidence admitted during the trial.

The conversation lasted less than three minutes and left Mr. Uribe feeling relieved.

“I just received a call and I am a very happy person,” he wrote in a text addressed to Ms. Méndez. “GOD bless you and him forever. »

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