The New Jersey newspaper, The Record, reported:
Nadine Arslanian Menendez, federally indicted in a bribery scheme with her husband, Sen. Bob Menendez, struck and killed a man while driving her Mercedes-Benz on Main Street in Bogota (N.J.) in December 2018.
Details about the crash, which unfolded on the evening of Dec. 12, 2018, are outlined in a Bogota Police Department report obtained by NorthJersey.com and The Record.
Arslanian — who began dating Menendez in February 2018 and married the senator in October 2020 — was not charged in the incident.
A month after the crash, according to an indictment brought by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Arslanian was texting Wael Hana, an Egyptian American businessman also indicted in the bribery scheme, about her lack of a car. Hana later provided her with a 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible, the indictment says.
The Record reported that Arslanian told police that she did not see the man stepping out in front of her car. The crash left Richard Koop, 49, dead in front of his home.
The newspaper quoted from the Bogota Police Department investigation report: “Ms. Arslanian was not at fault in this crash. Mr. Koop was jaywalking and did not cross the street at an intersection or in a marked crosswalk.”
Sheri Breen, the attorney for Koop’s estate, told The Record that a surveillance video from a nearby business showed that Arslanian “moved her car around his (Koop’s) body as he was lying in the road and she did not come to his aid or to even check on him.”
Menendez was away in Washington, D.C., on the night of the accident, according to Senate voting records.
The New York Times reported:
What happened that night in the borough of Bogota outside New York City was not reported for years, leaving witnesses and Mr. Koop’s family to wonder if the fatal collision was deliberately kept quiet. But now, nearly five years later, the episode adds a startling dimension to a scandal that has shaken American politics, and raised new questions about the senator at its center.
The revelation helps fill in an important narrative gap around one of the most blatant bribes alleged in a 39-page federal indictment unveiled last month against Ms. Menendez, her powerful husband and three businessmen.
Prosecutors said in those charging papers that Ms. Menendez needed a car so badly after a December 2018 “accident” that the senator, a Democrat, was willing to try to suppress an unrelated criminal prosecution for a New Jersey businessman in exchange for a $60,000 Mercedes convertible. The fatal collision with Mr. Koop on Dec. 12 matches prosecutors’ terse description of the December 2018 crash.
The Times reported that its review of records about the accident “raise additional questions about the inquiry into the collision” and whether Menendez “may have made an attempt to intervene.” The police report indicated that Aslanian was never tested for drugs or alcohol on the scene, and that a man who identified himself as a retired police officer from a nearby town was heard saying he came to the scene as “a favor” to a friend whose wife knew Aslanian, according to the Times.
The Times said that there is nothing “explicitly noted” in the police reports and videos it reviewed “to indicate that officers knew of the driver’s relationship with the senator.”
Menendez, 69, and his wife, 56, have both pleaded not guilty to the bribery-related charges in the federal indictment. Menendez stepped down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he has refused to resign from the Senate despite calls by at least 31 Democratic senators and New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy that he do so.
Rep. Andy Kim has already declared that he will mount a primary challenge should Menendez seek reelection in 2024. HuffPost reported that a new poll of New Jersey Democrats, commissioned by the liberal think tank Data for Progress, shows that 48% of those surveyed would pick Kim in a primary, while 9% would vote to reelect Menendez. The poll also found that 40% of voters are uncertain who they would vote for.
In a more crowded race, Menendez would receive only 6% of the vote, according to another poll question that listed a wider field of possible candidates. The results show Kim with 27%, Rep. Mikie Sherrill with 20% (who ruled out a run on Friday), and other potential candidates each receiving 6% or less. But the poll showed that an overwhelming 78% of the respondents think Menendez should resign.
Menendez told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon, after details about the 2018 car crash were reported: “That was a tragic accident,” adding that “obviously, we think of the family.”
But Koop’s sister, Rosemarie Koop-Angelicola, told the Times in an interview that the family never heard a word from the future Mrs. Menendez or the senator after the crash:
“The family really has had serious concerns over what we felt was a very sparse, one-sided investigation. 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.”
It was his future wife who introduced the senator to an Egyptian American friend she had known for nearly a decade, Wael Hana. The Times wrote that prosecutors say this relationship “formed the beginning of a corrupt scheme to use the senator’s power to improperly help the Egyptian government in return for bribes.”
In announcing the indictment on Sept. 22, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said:
“As the grand jury charged, between 2018 and 2022, Senator Menendez and his wife engaged in a corrupt relationship with Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes – three New Jersey businessmen who collectively paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes, including cash, gold, a Mercedes Benz, and other things of value – in exchange for Senator Menendez agreeing to use his power and influence to protect and enrich those businessmen and to benefit the Government of Egypt.“
It’s the apparently insensitive conduct of Menendez and his future wife after the crash that make details in the indictment about the alleged car bribe look even worse. That’s because the indictment does not mention anything about Koop’s death. It only says the collision left Mrs. Menendez “without a car,” according to the Times. The Bogota police report showed that the collision shattered the front windshield and damaged the front end on the passenger side of her car.
Prosecutors say Mrs. Menendez sent multiple text messages to Hana complaining she lacked a car, and then the senator, Hana, and another New Jersey businessman, Jose Uribe, a friend of Hana, worked out an arrangement to get her another luxury car. Hana and Uribe were both indicted along with the senator and his wife. The Times wrote:
According to the indictment, Mr. Menendez agreed to call a senior prosecutor at the New Jersey attorney general’s office in late January to try to pressure him to go easy on an associate of Mr. Uribe. Mr. Uribe, in return, agreed to finance a car, prosecutors said. His lawyer did not return requests for comment.
“All is GREAT! I’m so excited to get a car next week. !!” Ms. Menendez texted Mr. Hana a few days after the senator placed the call.
In April, four months after Mr. Koop’s death, Ms. Menendez signed paperwork to purchase a new $60,000 Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible. She told Mr. Uribe by text that she would “never forget this” and messaged Mr. Menendez to celebrate, too.
“Congratulations mon amour de la vie,” Ms. Menendez wrote to Mr. Menendez, according to the indictment. “We are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes.”
On Wednesday night, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell delivered a scathing commentary on the Menendezes, saying they never thought Koop’s family. He said: “The only problem Mrs. Menendez seemed to face after she killed someone was how to replace that damaged car.” O’Donnell added:
So, you’ve killed a man with a car, and you are so excited to get a car next week – not even slightly traumatized about driving, not in any way. And the thing you say you will never forget is the bribe that got you the car, not the man you killed.
The indictment contains a text message that seemed creepy enough when all we knew it was describing was an alleged bribe. But now that we know that it is the reward Mrs. Menendez got after killing someone, it reads as sickeningly perverse. ...
She got that car only because she killed someone with her previous car. And she calls herself a “proud owner” of the new car. The bribe car.
And while she’s at it, she congratulates her future husband – the senator – for taking what federal prosecutors call a bribe, for which they are now both criminal codefendants who have pleaded not guilty.
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