Sen. Bob Menendez‘s then-girlfriend, now his wife, struck and killed a pedestrian in December 2018, newly revealed police records show.
Four months after the incident, Nadine Arslanian and Menendez, D-N.J., were allegedly given a new Mercedes as a gift as part of what federal prosecutors have described as a bribery conspiracy to cash in on Menendez’s power and influence. Police records indicate the fatal collision badly damaged Arslanian’s Mercedes.
Arslanian, who was not charged, told police she was driving on Main Street when a man later identified as Richard Koop “jumped on my windshield,” according to dashboard video obtained by NBC New York.
Koop was found lying in the road with “severe head trauma, bleeding from the back of his head, bleeding from the face, and possible fractured legs and arms” when police arrived shortly after 7:30 p.m., according to police records obtained by NBC News that also said the responding officer described Koop as unconscious and not breathing.
Arslanian was “bleeding from her hands” and had hit a parked car after she struck Koop, police records showed.
“Why was the guy in the middle of the street? I didn’t do anything wrong, you know?” she told police, according to the dashcam video.
Police also asked for Arslanian’s consent to search her cellphone.
“Ms. Arslanian originally reported I may search her phone, handed me her phone, then shortly after reported she no longer gives consent for a cellular phone search. I immediately returned Ms. Arslanian’s phone back to her,” one of the officers said in a report.
Police said Arslanian gave a statement saying that Koop “darted across traffic and jumped onto her vehicle” and that she said “she did not observe Mr. Koop prior to striking him with her vehicle.”
Police found that Arslanian was not at fault and that “Mr. Koop was jaywalking and did not cross the street at an intersection or in a marked crosswalk.”
There is no indication in police records that Arslanian was tested for drugs or alcohol. It said she was released to “a friend” after police interviewed her.
Sheri Breen, a lawyer for the Koop family, alleged that Arslanian waited several minutes before she called 911. “She let him lie on the ground and she took some time to sit there watching before she backed up, moved her car again and then drove around him,” Breen told NBC New York.
Breen said Koop had gone out with friends and took an Uber ride home. “He just had to cross the street to get to his home when the defendant came barreling down the street and struck him,” Breen said.
She said that the Koop family received a settlement from Arslanian’s insurance company but that neither Arslanian or Menendez ever reached out to them.
Arslanian’s lawyer did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The attorney, David Schertler, told the Times it was a “tragic accident.”
“My understanding was this individual ran in front of her car, and she was not at fault,” he told the paper, saying the incident was unrelated to the current federal charges against her.
Menendez, who faces dozens of calls to resign from his Democratic colleagues, told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill that it “was a tragic accident and obviously we think of the family.”
Police records said Arslanian’s vehicle sustained “heavy front end damage due to the collision” and “her front windshield was shattered and had damage on the passenger side which was later determined to be from a parked car that she struck after striking Mr. Koop.”
Prosecutors said Arslanian started dating Menendez in February 2018 and soon connected him with a New Jersey businessman who had ties to the Egyptian government, Wael Hana. Hana allegedly introduced the couple to another defendant in the bribery scheme, a businessman named Jose Uribe.
All four have pleaded not guilty.
The indictment said Arslanian “was involved in a car accident in or about December 2018 that left her without a car. On multiple occasions up to and including in or about January 2019” she sent text messages to Hana “about her lack of a car.”
That January — just weeks after the fatal collision — Arslanian, Menendez, Hana and Uribe agreed that Menendez would reach out to a prosecutor to try to help an associate of Uribe’s “in exchange for a car,” the indictment said.
Menendez did so, according to the indictment.
Afterward, Hana and Uribe got to work getting Arslanian a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible, prosecutors said. Arslanian bought it in April 2019, with a down payment that included $15,000 in cash from Uribe, according to the indictment. Uribe subsequently took care of the monthly financing payments, prosecutors allege.
After she got the car, prosecutors said, she texted Menendez a picture of it. “Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,” she wrote, along with a heart emoji.