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Prosecution rests in Sen. Bob Menendez corruption trial

Testimony over seven weeks included Senate ethics staffer and U.S. attorney for New Jersey

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., arrives for trial June 11 at federal court in New York City.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., arrives for trial June 11 at federal court in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Federal prosecutors rested their corruption case against Sen. Bob Menendez on Friday, wrapping up testimony that stretched over seven weeks as they sought to prove his role in an alleged yearslong bribery scheme.

Jurors heard from FBI employees, government officials, the chief counsel and staff director of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, and an insurance broker who testified that he bribed the senator in an attempt to influence state-level investigations to benefit people close to him.

Jose Uribe, the insurance broker, told the jury that Menendez during a dinner in 2020 appeared to acknowledge that he sought to influence the investigations.

“He said: I saved your ass twice. Not once, but twice,” Uribe recalled Menendez saying.

Defense attorneys sought to weaken the evidence at trial and poke holes through testimony, seeking to hurt Uribe’s credibility and portray him as a recurring liar.

“I will say that I have lied in the past,” Uribe said during cross-examination.

The prosecution resting Friday means defense lawyers could start presenting any witnesses next week, according to multiple news reports.

Menendez is on trial in Manhattan along with two New Jersey businessmen who were also charged in the wide-ranging corruption case brought by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

Prosecutors have alleged that Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, which included cash, gold bars and a luxury vehicle.

The senator’s wife is also charged in the case, but a federal judge overseeing the matter rescheduled her trial.

Prosecutors chronicled their case against the senior senator from New Jersey over seven weeks.

The prosecution’s case started slowly last month with an FBI agent walking through how authorities seized gold bars and about $486,000 in cash during a 2022 search of the New Jersey residence the senator shared with his wife. Authorities counted the cash with machines, said FBI special agent Aristotelis Kougemitros.

“I had to call in reinforcement from the city. Two agents came with cash-counting machines,” Kougemitros said. “I was directed that if I seized the cash, that I needed to count it in place. So I called in reinforcements.”

Menendez himself is facing 16 criminal counts that include bribery, extortion and acting as a foreign agent. Prosecutors have argued that Menendez and his wife used his influence and were motivated by greed.

Key testimony

Key testimony in the prosecution’s case came from Uribe, the insurance broker who pleaded guilty in the case earlier this year.

Authorities have accused Menendez of agreeing to take action because of the bribes, saying he attempted to interfere in a New Jersey state criminal prosecution of an associate of Uribe’s and a state criminal investigation that involved an Uribe employee.

Uribe testified that he agreed to provide a car for Menendez’s wife in order to get “the power and influence” of the senator. The aim, he said, was to get a “better resolution” for an associate of his in a criminal matter, and to stop an ongoing investigation that could spell trouble for another business associate.

“Did you plead guilty to committing federal crimes?” asked Lara Pomerantz, a federal prosecutor.

“Yes, I did,” Uribe responded.

“Does that include bribery of a public official?” Pomerantz asked.

“Yes, I did,” he responded.

“Who was that public official?” Pomerantz asked.

“Senator Robert Menendez,” he said.

Uribe was worried about the criminal prosecution of his friend, and worried authorities would also come after a business associate of his who he thought of as a daughter, he testified.

Uribe said he provided Menendez’s wife with $15,000 in cash — given to her in the parking lot of a restaurant — for a down payment on a Mercedes-Benz and arranged for monthly payments on the vehicle in exchange for trying to help disrupt the investigations.

“I remember saying to her, if your problem is a car, my problem is saving my family and we went into the agreement of helping each other,” he said about the deal.

Uribe told the jury he later met with Menendez at the senator’s home in New Jersey, where the senator asked him to write down the names of the relevant parties on a piece of paper.

Later, during the 2020 dinner, Menendez said he didn’t have to do much, and said he relayed the message that the prosecution was against Latinos, Uribe testified.

Under cross-examination, the defense pointed out that Uribe previously pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and lied on an application to get a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“I will say that I have lied in the past,” Uribe said.

Senate mentions

Prosecutors have also accused Menendez of using his power to recommend that the president nominate a person as U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey who he thought could be influenced to disrupt a criminal case involving co-defendant Fred Daibes, a real estate developer who was a longtime fundraiser for the senator.

Philip Sellinger told the jury he was interested in becoming the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey when he met with Menendez in December 2020.

The two talked about Sellinger’s vision for the office, Sellinger said, and Menendez brought up a case involving Daibes. It was the only particular case that came up in the meeting, Sellinger said.

“Senator Menendez believed that he was being treated — he, Mr. Daibes — was being treated unfairly, and Senator Menendez hoped that if I became U.S. Attorney that I would look at it carefully,” Sellinger testified.

Sellinger later told the senator he might have to be recused from the Daibes case if he got the job, due to an unrelated matter in his private practice, Sellinger testified.

Menendez ultimately told Sellinger he would not be recommending him for the post because he was unable to have the White House nominate him.

“When he told me that I was not going to get nominated, he didn’t get into any specifics,” Sellinger said.

Sellinger was eventually nominated for the role and the Senate confirmed him in December 2021.

The prosecution also sought to show that Menendez did not report certain information on his Senate financial disclosure forms.

Menendez’s legal team has argued that when the senator learned of car payments from Uribe, the senator was told they were a loan and insisted that his partner pay the man back.

Shannon Kopplin, chief counsel and staff director of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, testified that Menendez did not report a car loan liability on the financial disclosures presented to her by the prosecution.