Senator Robert Menendez’s recent federal bribery indictment, the second of his tenure, is chock-full of cartoonish details, from gold bars to wads of cash found stuffed in clothing to a black Mercedes-Benz convertible allegedly purchased for the senator’s then-soon-to-be wife as part of a bribe. Now new reports are shedding light on the grisly reason Nadine Arslanian Menendez was in need of a new car: In December 2018, she was involved in a fatal car crash that resulted in no charges, was not widely reported, and may not have been properly investigated. The New Jersey attorney general’s office has now launched an inquiry into how the incident was handled, and it has seized law-enforcement records regarding the crash.
New Jersey newspaper The Record reported on Wednesday that Arslanian Menendez was driving on East Main Street in Bogota, New Jersey, on December 12, 2018, when she struck 49-year-old Richard Koop with her Mercedes-Benz, killing him. Officers arrived on the scene at 7:35 p.m and found Koop lying in the road just outside of his home, suffering from “severe head trauma, bleeding from the back of his head, bleeding from the face and possible fractured legs and arms,” according to a report from the Bogota Police Department. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The same police report determined that Arslanian Menendez was not at fault in the crash, writing that Koop had been jaywalking and didn’t cross the street properly. But many questions remain about the incident. Arslanian Menendez was allowed to leave the scene without being tested for drugs and alcohol, according to the New York Times. Dashcam video recorded on the night of the accident shows that a man who identified himself as a retired police officer from Hackensack joined Arslanian Menendez at the scene and started talking to law enforcement, saying she was a friend of his friend’s wife.
David Schertler, a lawyer who represents Arslanian Menendez, told the Times that the incident was a “tragic accident” that has nothing to do with the current charges facing the Menendezes. “My understanding was this individual ran in front of her car, and she was not at fault,” he said.
But Koop’s sister, Rosemarie Koop-Angelicola, said the family felt the crash wasn’t properly handled by the authorities. “The family really has had serious concerns over what we felt was a very sparse, one-sided investigation,” she told the Times. “Definitely a lack of legal enthusiasm to take this case, definite lack of media coverage, and a lack of communication by the authorities of Bergen County. We felt that the whole thing was very silently swept under the rug.”
Now, local authorities’ handling of the crash is drawing fresh scrutiny from the New Jersey attorney general’s office. The office’s public integrity unit is reviewing the incident and on Thursday seized records regarding the crash from the Bogota Police Department and Bergen County prosecutor’s office.
The federal indictment notes that Arslanian Menendez had been in an accident in December 2018 that “left her without a car.” Prosecutors say Arslanian Menendez complained about this fact in multiple text messages sent to her friend Wael Hana, a local businessman. Four months later, Hana and another businessman, Jose Uribe, helped her fix that problem — allegedly, in exchange for a favor from the senator.
Prosecutors say Hana and Uribe reached an agreement for Senator Menendez to speak to an official about the criminal prosecution of one of Uribe’s associates, and in exchange, they provided Arslanian Menendez with a new car. The Menendezes texted each other information about the defendant in the case and later deleted the messages from their phones. After the senator called the official, the defendant reached a plea deal that required no jail time, a result that prosecutors said was “more favorable” than what was previously offered to him.
Then Uribe connected Nadine Menendez with a car dealership and allegedly gave her $15,000 in cash to go toward the down payment.
After the car was purchased, Nadine sent a text message to her husband.
“Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,” she said, adding a heart emoji.
This post has been updated to include additional reporting.
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