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Key Question in Menendez Case: Did He Know About Alleged Mercedes Deal?

Key Question in Menendez Case: Did He Know About Alleged Mercedes Deal?

Jose Uribe, the businessman who testified that he had bribed Senator Robert Menendez in return for his help in quashing criminal matters involving two of Mr. Uribe’s friends, will be back on the witness stand Monday with a key question looming: Did he and the senator ever discuss the alleged deal?

Mr. Uribe has emerged as the prosecution’s chief witness in Mr. Menendez’s federal corruption trial, which enters its fifth week on Monday in Manhattan.

Mr. Menendez, 70, and his wife, Nadine Menendez, 57, have been charged with conspiring to take cash, gold, a luxury car and other bribes collectively worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for Mr. Menendez’s agreement to dispense political favors at home and abroad.

Mr. Uribe detailed one of those alleged favors in his testimony. He said he had been deeply concerned about an insurance fraud investigation by the New Jersey attorney general into two people close to him, and he raised the issue with a man named Wael Hana, a longtime friend of his and Ms. Menendez.

Mr. Hana told Mr. Uribe that in return for $200,000 to $250,000, he had “a way to make these things go away,” Mr. Uribe said.

“He could go to Nadine,” Mr. Uribe testified. “Nadine will go to Senator Menendez.”

Mr. Uribe testified that he later encountered the senator three times in person — at a fund-raiser Mr. Uribe said he organized for the senator to stay in his “good graces,” at a party held afterward and at a dinner. But Mr. Uribe said he did not broach the subject of the alleged deal with Mr. Menendez.

Prosecutors have not yet asked Mr. Uribe about a brief phone call they say the senator made to him on Oct. 29, 2019. After the call ended, Mr. Uribe sent text messages to Ms. Menendez.

“I just got a call and I am a very happy person,” he wrote, adding, “GOD bless you and him for ever.”

Mr. Menendez, who has emphatically maintained his innocence since charges were announced last September, said as he left court on Friday to “stay tuned” until Mr. Uribe could be cross-examined by his lawyers.

“Wait for the cross and find the truth,” Mr. Menendez said.

The senator’s lawyers have adopted a legal strategy of shifting blame for any wrongdoing to Ms. Menendez and of attacking Mr. Uribe’s credibility. One lawyer, Avi Weitzman, told the jury in an opening statement last month that Ms. Menendez hid her financial difficulties from her husband and “kept him in the dark on what she was asking others to give her.”

Of Mr. Uribe, Mr. Weitzman said, “We’ll have a lot to discuss at the end of the case about him, about his lies and his cheating and his crimes and all the ways he’s been incentivized to continue doing all of them.”

In his testimony, Mr. Uribe described a phone call with Ms. Menendez in which he said she acknowledged some aspects of the alleged deal.

Mr. Uribe said that after Ms. Menendez complained she needed a new car, he promised to buy her one if she was able to “help me complete this deal.”

“She agreed to the terms,” Mr. Uribe testified; prosecutors say Mr. Uribe helped to buy her a 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible worth more than $60,000.

Mr. Menendez, Mr. Hana and another co-defendant, Fred Daibes, are being tried together in Federal District Court. Ms. Menendez’s trial was postponed by the judge, Sidney H. Stein, until July because she is being treated for breast cancer. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Uribe, 57, pleaded guilty in March and has been cooperating with the government.

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