HomeTop StoriesStar witness in the Menendez case endures a day of grilling

Star witness in the Menendez case endures a day of grilling

NEW YORK – Defense attorneys worked all day Tuesday to undermine one of federal prosecutors’ star witnesses in their corruption case, again Sen. Bob Menendez.

The witness, Jose Uribe, a New Jersey trucking and insurance industry figure who pleaded guilty earlier this year to bribing the senator and his wife, was repeatedly asked about his criminal record, which includes a history of fraud and lying to authorities includes. Uribe testified in vivid detail Monday about a series of meetings with the senator, including a backyard get-together where they shared cognac.

Uribe has said he bought the New Jersey Democrat’s current wife, Nadine, a new Mercedes-Benz in 2019 to gain the senator’s power and influence. Uribe wanted Menendez to disrupt the New Jersey prosecution and investigation surrounding Uribe’s insurance activities. The government has charged two other businessmen with bribing the senator, but the auto-bribery charges may rest largely on the way jurors view Uribe’s testimony.

Of course, what a jury will think of his credibility remains to be seen. But Uribe remained calm and at times extraordinarily precise in his answers during cross-examination Tuesday, even as he admitted he had a checkered past full of misconduct.

When Uribe was summoned and questioned by federal prosecutors on Friday and Monday, they tried to shield him from some of the coming attacks by asking their own questions about a series of crimes to which he has pleaded guilty, including some unrelated to his interactions . with the Menendezes.

Adam Fee, an attorney for Menendez, tried to clarify what those crimes were, sometimes using questions that were expunged from the record by the judge — even though they were clearly asked in front of jurors.

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“You’re a very good liar, aren’t you?” Fee asked at one point, going through a litany of misdeeds that Uribe has admitted to.

These activities include submitting false documents to obtain a bank loan; using numbers from these fake documents to obtain a separate pandemic-era loan from the federal Small Business Administration; failure to file taxes; lying about his taxes; and providing dud insurance policies to trucking companies.

Fee pointed out that Uribe had been operating an insurance business in New Jersey for more than a decade, even though Uribe had lost his state insurance license in 2011. Although Uribe actually managed it, it was registered on paper to a friend of Uribe’s daughter who, according to Fee’s questions, had come to Uribe for help when she was a pregnant teenager.

Because Uribe was not allowed to run the company, he agreed with Fee that this arrangement meant Uribe had broken the law “every day” from 2011 until Uribe agreed earlier this year to cooperate with Menendez’s prosecutors and get out of the company stepped.

Fee tried to distance Uribe from his client, the senator. Although Uribe previously testified about a series of meetings with the senator, Uribe never had any written communication with Menendez. Unless Menendez testifies at trial, that means Uribe’s account is the only one likely to be available to jurors about personal meetings the senator had with Uribe, as well as a phone conversation.

Fee also asked questions that sought to highlight Uribe’s interactions with the senator’s wife, Nadine Menendez. For example, Fee asked Uribe if he knew that Nadine would help Uribe “manipulate” or try to “mislead” the senator.

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Elements of this strategy, known among trial watchers as the throw-her-under-the-bus defense, were used by the senator’s legal team in opening arguments and hinted at in other questions asked by Menendez’s lawyers during the trial, which began last month. and is expected to last until the end of this month.

Fee also repeatedly asked questions to establish that Uribe wanted the senator to view him as a legitimate businessman. It appears that the purpose of these questions was to suggest that Menendez had been misled by Uribe.

At times, Uribe would correct Fee and an attorney for Menendez co-defendant Wael “Will” Hana about Uribe’s own prior testimony. Hana is also accused of bribing the Menendezes.

At other times, Uribe did not remember things that, if he had said them in front of jurors, could have harmed him further — such as the details of the 2011 case that cost him his insurance license or that he had issued a blind insurance policy to specific people. , including Hana, which ultimately damaged their businesses.

But Uribe also did not recall any interactions that, if they had occurred, would likely have hurt the senator’s case. For example, Uribe said that he and Menendez had never talked “at all” about the car he bought for Nadine.

Fee and Hana’s attorney who questioned Uribe, Ricardo Solano Jr., also explored the fact that Uribe has a lot at stake. Uribe faces a maximum prison sentence of 95 years for the crimes he is found guilty of. Uribe said he hopes for a milder sentence or avoidance of jail time after his cooperation with the government.

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During cross-examination, Uribe was also asked about whether he was trying to cooperate with the government to spare his family, who were involved in his businesses, at least on paper, and could also presumably be investigated or prosecuted.

“I have lied in the past to protect my family, yes,” Uribe said.

Defense lawyers had hoped to use more of Uribe’s past against him. But without jurors present, the judge denied attempts to introduce evidence or ask about Uribe’s failure to pay child support for what was described as a “limited period” or about a case the judge called “the strip clubs.” named.

These two lines of cross-examination could have undermined what Uribe said about his family values. He said he bribed the Menendezes to protect his family or close friends and described how he set aside Sundays to go to church, visited the graves of his mother and his father in a nursing home and held family dinners.

An attorney for Hana, Larry Lustberg, said Uribe was “left in tatters” after the cross-examination, and he doesn’t think Uribe’s testimony established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — the standard jurors must use when judging defendants.

“The testimony speaks for itself,” Bob Menendez said as he left the courtroom.

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