(Bloomberg) -- The rift between Senator Bob Menendez and his wife at his bribery trial deepened when his lawyer suggested she schemed behind his back to secure a Mercedes-Benz and that the New Jersey Democrat broke up with her at one point over “too much drama.” 

The 2018 split between Menendez and Nadine Arslanian was brief — they married in 2020 — but the senator’s lawyer revealed the breakup as he questioned the prosecution’s star witness at his New York corruption trial. Menendez is accused of accepting 13 gold bars, the car and almost $500,000 in cash for using his influence to help two businessmen on trial with him and a third who pleaded guilty. 

Menendez’s lawyers have argued during the trial that Nadine, who began dating the senator in 2018, took the gold bars without the senator’s knowledge and hid the extent of her financial distress before they were married in 2020. She is undergoing treatment for breast cancer and will be tried later. 

Menendez lawyer Adam Fee advanced this blame-the-wife defense when questioning Jose Uribe, a businessman who pleaded guilty in the case. Uribe testified that he bribed her with $15,000 in cash for the Mercedes and later made monthly payments on the car. Uribe sought the senator’s help in influencing two criminal investigations in New Jersey, he told jurors in New York. 

Fee asked if was true that Nadine never mentioned Menendez when she sought Uribe’s help in securing the car. Uribe said he didn’t recall her saying that.

“You were aware that Senator Menendez had broken up with Nadine in December 2018 because she was causing too much drama?” Fee asked Uribe, without elaborating on when they reconciled. 

Uribe said he was not aware of such a breakup.

Attacking Credibility

Menendez is on trial with New Jersey developer Fred Daibes and Egyptian American businessman Wael Hana, whose lawyer also cross-examined Uribe. 

Fee and Hana attorney Ricardo Solano tried to undermine the credibility of Uribe, 57, the only insider to testify about directing bribes to Menendez, 70. Uribe had said Hana, who is accused of bribing Menendez to protect a meat inspection monopoly he received from Egypt, was willing to pay as much as $250,000 to the lawmaker. 

Solano depicted Uribe as a liar who was falsely implicating Hana and Menendez in a bid for leniency after pleading guilty to crimes including bribery, wire fraud and tax evasion on March 1. 

And before reaching his plea deal with prosecutors earlier this year, Uribe pleaded guilty in 2011 to insurance fraud and theft by deception, prompting New Jersey regulators to bar him from the industry.

Fee said Uribe had engaged in lies for years, and had misled jurors in his three days of testimony. 

“You’re a very good liar, aren’t you?” Fee asked. Uribe disagreed. 

Despite the industry ban stemming from the 2011 case, Uribe continued to run insurance firms in the name of his son and a woman he regarded as a daughter, Ana Peguero. He testified that he paid for the Mercedes to protect an associate under indictment and forestall a fraud investigation of Peguero. Solano suggested that Uribe was actually protecting himself, not Peguero.

“Was the real concern about yourself and that you would be found to be engaged in criminal conduct?” Solano asked. 

“I’m concerned about my daughter Ana,” Uribe said. “I’m concerned about a young lady being hurt.”

Menendez, a three-term senator, vows to beat the charges. His popularity has collapsed since he was indicted last year. He didn’t seek the Democratic nomination for his seat this month and instead filed to run as an independent in November.  

The former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez is also accused with Hana of acting as an agent of Egypt. In his testimony, Uribe said that Hana told him he was acting as an Egyptian agent. 

Solano asked whether Uribe first told prosecutors that Hana made that assertion about two weeks ago in one of 20 or so debriefings. Uribe conceded that was correct. 

The defense lawyers tried to nail Uribe on other inconsistencies in his testimony, including the amount of money that he said Hana agreed to pay Menendez in bribes.

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