Around 7.30pm on 12 December 2018, Richard Koop was walking on East Main Street in Bogota, New Jersey, when the then-girlfriend of Senator Bob Menendez struck and killed the 49-year-old man with her car.
Police did not determine that Nadine Arslanian, who married the senator in 2020, was at fault, nor did she face any charges in connection with the crash. Police reports also do not indicate that she was tested for drugs or alcohol.
But a recently unsealed federal indictment charging the senator, his now-wife and three New Jersey businessmen in an alleged years-long corruption and bribery scheme claims that Ms Menendez bought a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible after the crash – using cash from one of the co-defendants, who is accused of bribing the senator to block a separate criminal investigation.
Surveillance camera footage, 911 calls, police reports and dashboard video footage from police cruisers obtained by The New York Times and The Record of New Jersey add a new dimension to the charges and raise additional questions about the incident itself, and whether the senator – facing a federal corruption indictment for a second time – played any role.
The 39-page federal indictment announced on 22 September only mentions that Ms Menendez sought the Mercedes after she was “involved in a car accident” in December 2019 that “left her without a car”.
Weeks later, Mr Menendez allegedly sought to interfere with a criminal investigation connected to co-defendant Jose Uribe’s trucking business, which was under scrutiny from New Jersey prosecutors at the time. Mr Menendez allegedly contacted a state prosecutor “in an attempt, through advice and pressure,” to “resolve these matters favorably,” according to the indictment.
“All is GREAT! I’m so excited to get a car next week. !!” Ms Menendez texted to another co-defendant, Wael Hana, after the senator’s call, according to the indictment.
In April, four months after Koop’s death, Mr Uribe then allegedly arranged the sale of a Mercedes-Benz convertible to Ms Menendez after handing her $15,000 in cash in a parking lot.
She then allegedly used $15,000 for a down payment and lied on an application to secure loan financing for the $60,000 Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible. Mr Uribe later arranged monthly financing payments routed through his associates or a company he controlled, according to the indictment.
In a text message, she allegedly told Mr Uribe that she would “never forget this” and then messaged Mr Menendez with the news.
“Congratulations mon amour de la vie,” she wrote to him, according to the indictment. “We are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes.”
Ms Menendez, 56, reportedly met her husband at an IHOP restaurant and began dating in 2018, according to prosecutors. The couple was engaged a year later and married in a small ceremony in Queens in 2020.
According to family members who spoke to The New York Times, Koop was leaving an Uber and walking across the street to his apartment when he was struck in December 2018.
Surveillance video from a nearby auto shop obtained by media outlets captured part of the collision, showing a car striking Koop and sending him to the curb as the car slammed its brakes.
An incident report from the Bogota Police Department noted that the car – which was also a Mercedes – had “front-end damage on the passenger side, which was later determined to be from a parked car that she struck after striking Mr Koop.” A photograph of the car obtained by attorneys for the Koop family shows a shattered windshield.
Surveillance footage shows that Ms Menendez remained inside her car, then moved the vehicle a few car lengths in front of Koop’s body.
“Some guy just jumped in front of my car,” Ms Menendez told a 911 dispatcher roughly four minutes after the collision, according to a recording of the call reviewed by The New York Times.
A man who identified himself to police on the scene as a retired officer from nearby Hackensack had also arrived to assist Ms Menendez.
“I don’t even know her,” the man can be heard saying on police cruiser dashboard camera footage of the incident. “That’s my buddy’s wife who’s friends with her. He said, ‘Could you do me a favor and take her up there, because her friend just got in a car accident.’”
“Why was the guy in the middle of the street?” Ms Menendez can be heard asking an officer in the same video. She also repeatedly told officers that he “jumped on my windshield.”
A police report asserted that “Ms Arslanian was not at fault in this crash” and that “Mr Koop was jaywalking and did not cross the street at an intersection or in a marked crosswalk.”
An autopsy report later indicated that Koop had alcohol and cannabis in his system, though his family has questioned why police appear to have failed to test whether Ms Menendez was impaired when she was driving.
A police report later indicated that police sought her phone records, in an apparent attempt to see whether she was calling or texting from her phone at the time of the incident, but subsequent reporting did not reveal whether any information was uncovered.
An investigation from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Fatal Accident Investigation Unit and Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigations processed and photographed evidence from the scene, according to a report compiled by a Bogota patrolman more than two months after the crash.
The senator and his wife along with three New Jersey businessmen charged alongside them in a sweeping federal indictment have pleaded not guilty, and Mr Menendez has resisted calls from a growing number of members of Congress to step down from office.
Ms Menendez is alleged to have helped her husband – who chaired the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee – maintain close relationships with Egyptian officials, and joined him in discussions over the sales of US military equipment, according to prosecutors.
She allegedly worked with Mr Hana to introduce the senator to Egyptian officials, and in May 2018, the senator sought sensitive information from the US Department of State regarding personnel at the US Embassy in Cairo, which he then gave to her, according to the indictment.
Mr Hana allegedly gave Ms Menendez a no-show job at his company and $23,000 in home payments to avert foreclosure proceedings on one of her properties, prosecutors allege.
She is accused of setting up a company – Strategic International Business Consultants – to receive alleged bribery payments. The incorporation papers were filed the same day a lender began foreclosure proceedings on the property, filings show.
In Senate disclosure forms, Mr Menendez reported that his wife owned bars of gold bullion worth as much as $250,000, which federal records show that they sold for as much as $400,000.
In March 2022, Ms Mendendez brought two one-kilogram gold bars to a jeweller, according to the indictment. Prosecutors allege the serial numbers indicate they previously belonged to co-defendant, Fred Daibes, a prominent New Jersey real estate developer who was separately under federal investigation.
Mr Menendez allegedly sought the Senate confirmation of a nominee for US Attorney in New Jersey who would go easy on Daibes. That nominee, Philip Sellinger, ultimately recused himself from the case.