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Menendez attorneys grill star witness in bribery trial about alleged payoffs

1 month ago 261

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), arrives at Federal Court, for his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York City, U.S., June 11, 2024. 

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Defense attorneys on Tuesday scrutinized the credibility of the star witness in the federal corruption trial of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., after he testified that he bribed the embattled lawmaker and his wife.

The witness, Jose Uribe, was one of three New Jersey businessmen who were originally charged in the case along with Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez.

Uribe flipped in early March, pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors in hopes of avoiding prison when he is sentenced for his crimes, which carry a maximum of 95 years in prison.

In his direct testimony on the witness stand in New York federal court, Uribe said that in 2019 he paid for a Mercedes-Benz convertible for Nadine, who was then Menendez's girlfriend, in exchange for the senator's influence.

Prosecutors have accused Menendez of trying to interfere in New Jersey state criminal investigations related to Uribe's associates.

"That was my promise to her so she could get the car and comply with the deal," Uribe testified Monday.

On cross-examination Tuesday, an attorney for Menendez co-defendant Wael Hana sought to undermine Uribe's testimony, NBC News reported.

The lawyer, Ricardo Solano, asked Uribe if it was "fair to say when in trouble, you lie to get away with it?" 

Uribe responded, "I have lied in the past," adding he has taken what he sees as "necessary steps to protect my family." 

Solano drilled down: "Does that include lying?"

Uribe said that it did. "I have in the past, to protect my family," he said.

Uribe on March 1 pleaded guilty to seven counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud, and obstruction of justice.

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The senior U.S. senator, 70, and his wife are charged with illegally accepting cash, gold bars and other gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for official acts.

Menendez, Hana and Fred Daibes, another New Jersey businessman, are being tried together in a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan. Nadine Menendez's trial was postponed until July for medical reasons; the senator revealed during the trial that his wife is suffering from breast cancer.

Menendez's attorneys have tried to blame Nadine Menendez, saying she kept the senator "sidelined" about her money troubles. His attorney Avi Weitzman noted in his opening statement that gold bars were found in "Nadine's closet."

Menendez, who has been denounced by some of his Democratic colleagues, has filed to run for reelection as an independent candidate.

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