New Jersey’s chief law enforcement official has reportedly seized local police records and launched an inquiry to investigate how authorities handled a fatal car accident involving the then-girlfriend of an influential US senator in 2018.
Nadine Arslanian, who married Democratic Senator Bob Menendez in 2020, struck and killed a 49-year-old man with her car on 12 December 2018.
Police did not determine she was at fault, nor was she charged with a crime or accused of any wrongdoing in connection with the crash, but the incident came under closer scrutiny this week following federal charges against the senator, his wife and three New Jersey businessmen under an alleged bribery and corruption scheme, which partly involves the purchase of a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible that replaced the car she was driving at the time of the crash.
Investigators from the office of New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin’s Public Integrity & Accountability sought documents from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office on 5 October, one day after the publication of video footage, police reports and 911 call logs, among other documents stemming from the 2018 incident, according to NBC New York, which first reported the investigation.
The office of attorney general has declined to comment to The Independent, per office policy against confirming or or denying investigations.
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 2018 that “left her without a car”.
But footage of the incident from the Bogota Police Department dashboard cameras, nearby surveillance camera footage and other evidence obtained by The New York Times and The Record of New Jersey have added a new dimension to the federal case and raised additional questions about the incident itself, including whether the senator played a role.
Richard Koop reportedly was exiting an Uber and walking across the street to his apartment moments before he was struck. Ms Menendez 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.”
Weeks later, according to the federal indictment, the senator 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.
In April, four months after Koop’s death, Mr Uribe then allegedly arranged the sale of a Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible to Ms Menendez after handing her $15,000 in cash in a parking lot, allegedly used for a down payment. Mr Uribe later arranged monthly financing payments routed through his associates or a company he controlled, according to the indictment.
Questions raised by subsequent reports of the incident and the Koop family have asked whether police thoroughly reviewed her phone records to determine if she was using her phone at the time of the crash, whether a breathalyzer or blood test should have been administered, why a retired law enforcement official was called to the scene to assist her, and who was it that made that call.
The senator and his wife along with three New Jersey businessmen charged alongside them in a sweeping federal indictment have pleaded not guilty.
Mr Menendez has resisted calls for his resignation from a growing number of his Democratic colleagues in Congress, as well as the state’s Democratic Governor Phil Murphy.
A grand jury indictment unsealed on 22 September alleges a years-long scheme including the sharing of “sensitive US government information” among other steps to covertly benefit the Egyptian government, pushing US officials to secure an exclusive business deal with one of the co-defendants, and pressuring state and federal prosecutors to drop investigations – all in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold and gifts.
Authorities seized $100,000 worth of gold bars and more than $480,000 in cash, mostly stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe at their home, according to the indictment. Photographs in the indictment include jackets bearing Mr Menendez’s name and government seals stuffed with strapped bills.
The couple are each charged with three counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.