New Jersey officials have reopened an investigation into a 2018 crash in which Nadine Arslanian, the wife of Senator Bob Menendez, struck and killed a Bergen County father with her Mercedes.
The incident, which occurred in December 2018, came to renewed public attention this week after new details emerged, raising questions about the handling of the case.
Arslanian was driving her Mercedes when she struck a man who was crossing a street in Bergen County after exiting an Uber near his home.
What has drawn increased scrutiny is the revelation that Arslanian received a replacement Mercedes, financed by a businessman, a vehicle that was later identified in a bribery indictment involving both Menendezes.
However, the focus of the renewed investigation is not solely centered on the gift. Recent press reports have ignited concerns among the crash victim’s family and others, who have raised questions about whether Arslanian received preferential treatment following the fatal crash.
Video footage from the scene shows a man who identifies himself as a retired Hackensack police officer, describing himself as a “buddy” of the senator, arriving to assist Arslanian.
In the video, Arslanian tells Bogota police that the deceased man “jumped on my windshield.”
Notably, she was not subjected to drug or alcohol testing at the time of the incident, as reported by The New York Times. Instead, police investigated to determine the whereabouts of crash victim Richard Koop on the night of the incident.
Koop, who was described as a beloved father and uncle in his obituary, left his family suspicious of the investigation’s one-sided nature, as reported by The New York Times.
According to NBC News, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability visited the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday to seek answers and gather information regarding the case. However, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office declined to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
The newly surfaced video with enhanced audio, posted by the New Jersey Herald, captured Arslanian expressing her need to speak with an attorney and the arrival of the retired Hackensack police officer, who identifies himself as a friend of Arslanian’s.
In the video, the retired officer inquires about the involvement of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office in the investigation.
The Times’ report identifies the “buddy” as Senator Bob Menendez.
In a shocking twist, an indictment from September 22, 2023, revealed that businessman Jose Uribe, who Arslanian had introduced to Menendez at one point, financed a new car for Arslanian in 2019 as part of an alleged bribery scheme.
The indictment alleges that Senator Menendez intervened to have a New Jersey-based insurance fraud investigation involving Uribe’s employee resolved favorably.
The indictment further detailed the fruits of the alleged bribery scheme discovered during an FBI search of the Menendezes’ home, including cash, gold, luxury vehicles, and home furnishings.
Over $480,000 in cash, much of it concealed in envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe was found.
The indictment stated, “In exchange for Menendez’s actions, Uribe provided Nadine Menendez with $15,000 cash for the down payment on the luxury convertible in April 2019.”
After the purchase, Uribe continued to make monthly payments to Mercedes-Benz for the convertible until June 2022 when the FBI initiated an investigation and started asking questions.
The reopened investigation into the 2018 crash now raises further questions about the circumstances surrounding the incident and its subsequent handling, casting a shadow on the Menendez family.
A crowded primary could be in store for New Jersey Democrats as much of the party has come out against the now-indicted Senator.
Menendez has asserted his innocence against bribery charges brought last month, while many of his Senate Democratic colleagues and state party leaders are calling on him to resign.
Instead, Menendez has that he would not step down but it is not clear if he will run for reelection in 2024.
That has led at least one congressman to mount a primary challenge to unseat him as some Democrats are calling for another effort by Lisa McCormick, the progressive woman who captured four of ten votes in the last primary election in which Menendez was a candidate.
The race could yield more challengers in the coming months.
“I think we’re in a state of three-dimensional chess because not only is there the federal elections going on in ‘24, you have state Senate and state Assembly races happening right now, and then in ‘25 you have the governor’s race,” said Brian Doory, a Democratic strategist and the managing director of public affairs firm Firehouse Strategies.