Jose Uribe, defendant in Bob Menendez case, flips plea to guilty in bribery scheme

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One of the three New Jersey businessmen charged with Sen. Bob Menendez in his federal corruption case has changed his plea from not guilty to guilty on seven counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud.

A superseding indictment by the Southern District of New York alleges that Menendez, his wife and the three businessmen — Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and prominent North Jersey developer Fred Daibes — were part of a bribery scheme.

Uribe withdrew his previous not guilty plea for seven counts on Friday in New York before Judge Sidney H. Stein.

Manhattan, NY — October 18, 2023 -- Jose Uribe involved in the bribery case involving Senator Robert Menendez enters the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan for a hearing on corruption charges.
Manhattan, NY — October 18, 2023 -- Jose Uribe involved in the bribery case involving Senator Robert Menendez enters the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan for a hearing on corruption charges.

Uribe is scheduled to be sentenced on June 14.

The indictment alleged that the group was involved in a bribery scheme that netted cash, gold bars and a luxury car for Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian Menendez.

According to a plea agreement, Uribe could face up to 95 years in prison, though he could win leniency by cooperating and testifying against the other defendants, which he’s agreed to do. The seven-page plea agreement was signed by Uribe and his attorney on Friday.

The plea agreement is typical of any corruption case and enables the government to strengthen its case on Menendez, said Daniel Richman, a Columbia Law School professor and former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

"At the core, [the government has to prove] he accepted things of value knowing they were in exchange for official acts," Richman said. [the plea is] It's having someone say, 'I gave this to him for an official act' but doesn't end the case."

Richman suspects Menendez's attorneys will attack Uribe's credibility and argue that Uribe may have thought that he was bribing the senator, but it wasn't what Menendez had in mind.

"But, it does considerably strengthen the government's hand quid pro quo that it needs to," Richman said.

Menendez's legal team said Uribe's guilty plea doesn't change anything.

“Senator Menendez has spent months detailing the law and the evidence that demonstrate that charges should never have been filed in this case," Menendez's attorney Adam Fee said. "Today's news of Mr. Uribe's change of plea does not change the core truth: Sen. Menendez is innocent and the prosecutors have got it wrong. Sen. Menendez continues to look forward to proving his innocence to a jury.”

The seven counts against Uribe

Uribe was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest service wire fraud, honest service wire fraud, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, obstruction of justice, tax evasion and wire fraud.

Uribe originally pleaded not guilty in September and was released on a $1 million personal recognizance bond secured by his residence in Clifton, and he is restricted to New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania and New York.

Uribe was asked to forfeit $246,000, representing the amount of traceable proceeds, according to court documents.

The federal indictment alleges that from 2018 to 2023, Uribe "directly and indirectly, would and did corruptly give, offer and promise something of value to a public official, and offer and promise a public official to give something of value to another person and entity, with intent to influence an official act and to induce such public official to do an act and omit to do an act in violation of the lawful duty of such official."

Specifically, Uribe allegedly requested that a business associate in the Bronx make a payment for a Mercedes-Benz convertible for Menendez and his wife on May 3, 2019. The following day, Uribe had the associate make the payment from a corporate bank account that he opened at a bank branch in the Bronx. Nadine Menendez later sent a text message to Uribe about setting up a meeting with the three of them.

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In exchange for the car payments, it's alleged Menendez would use his office and influence to attempt to pressure the New Jersey Attorney General's office to resolve a New Jersey state criminal prosecution of an associate of Uribe and to resolve a New Jersey state criminal investigation involving one of Uribe's employees. Uribe has been an insurance producer.

Last July, two months before the indictment went public, Uribe and his then-counsel allegedly made false and misleading statements to the United States Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.

The tax evasion count is from January 2016 through April 2022, alleging Uribe attempted to "evade and defeat a substantial part of taxes" by maintaining a network of business entities in other individual names that Uribe still controlled.

Messages for Uribe and the attorney's representing Menendez and the other defendents were not immediately returned.

Menendez defends his name

Attorneys for Sen. Menendez and Nadine Menendez have been active this year, calling for warrants to be suppressed, their trials to be separated and dates to be changed.

Menendez spoke from the Senate chamber floor recently, saying that the timing of the indictment, originally filed in September, and then updated in October and again in early January, is part of a plan by the government to keep the “sensational story in the press."

The most recent version of the indictment alleges that Menendez received payments including cash and gold bars from Edgewater developer Daibes in return for helping Daibes get a Qatari investment company with ties to that country’s government to invest in a Daibes property by doing things that were viewed as favorable to the government of Qatar.

In June 2021, Menendez allegedly introduced Daibes to a member of the Qatari royal family and the principal of the investment firm, who then negotiated a multimillion-dollar investment in one of Daibes' New Jersey real estate properties.

Menendez would allegedly give statements supporting the Qatari government to Daibes before they were released publicly so he could share them with the Qatari investor and a Qatari government official associated with the investment firm, the indictment says.

Menendez was first indicted in this case last fall and faces corruption charges for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Daibes, Hana and Uribe and two other businessmen in exchange for helping them enrich themselves and trying to get them out of legal troubles.

Menendez and the other defendants all entered not guilty pleas last fall.

The indictment also alleges that between 2018 and 2022, Menendez and his wife “engaged in a corrupt relationship with Hana, Uribe and Daibes” to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for Menendez using his “power and influence to protect, to enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt” even as he sat as chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Bribes allegedly included cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low- or no-show job and a Mercedes-Benz.

The senator has said the allegations that he worked as a foreign agent for Egypt are an “unprecedented accusation and it has never ever been levied against a sitting member of Congress.”

Menendez is up for reelection this fall, and to secure his spot on the ballot, he will need to win the primary on June 4, likely around the time of closing arguments in the case if the trial date stands.

Rep. Andy Kim and New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy are in the midst of a contentious Democratic primary battle for Menendez's seat.

This article originally appeared on Jose Uribe, defendant in Bob Menendez case, flips plea to guilty