NJ Attorney General will investigate Nadine Arslanian's 2018 crash in Bogota

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The New Jersey Attorney General is investigating the circumstances surrounding a fatal car crash involving Nadine Arslanian Menendez on Main Street in Bogota in December 2018.

The attorney general's Office of Public Integrity & Accountability will look into the crash that left 49-year-old Richard Koop dead, sources said. Arslanian — who began dating Sen. Bob Menendez in February 2018 and married him in October 2020 — was not charged in the incident.

Sharon Lauchaire, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said that the office does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

Similarly, Gov. Phil Murphy’s office declined to comment on law enforcement matters.

Though the crash happened nearly five years ago, the circumstances surrounding the incident are facing new scrutiny because of its connections to the indictment of New Jersey's senior senator, his wife and three Garden State businessmen brought by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York last month.

Nadine Arslanian Menendez and a Bogota police officer speak after a motor vehicle accident on Dec. 12, 2018.
Nadine Arslanian Menendez and a Bogota police officer speak after a motor vehicle accident on Dec. 12, 2018.

According to the indictment, a month after the crash Arslanian was texting Wael Hana, an Egyptian American businessman also indicted in the alleged bribery scheme, about her lack of a car. Hana later provided her with a 2019 Mercedez-Benz C-300 convertible, the indictment says.

Registration records show that the 2019 Mercedes was purchased in March of that year.

Questions swirl

Bogota police responded to calls of a pedestrian hit by a car just after 7:35 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2018. A little more than half an hour later, Koop was declared dead at a local hospital.

Police records show a brief interview was conducted with Arslanian at the scene before she was allowed to get some personal belongings out of her car and leave with a friend. Though the friend isn’t visible, he can be heard talking to the police and acknowledges that he is a retired cop from Hackensack.

Arslanian, according to the police reports, also initially agreed to allow officers to search her phone, but took it back from them shortly thereafter.

The police records don't show that any field sobriety tests were done. There is also no indication that she was questioned about drinking or using any kind of drugs.

Arslanian was born to Armenian parents in Beirut, Lebanon. They fled during that country’s civil war to Greece and, later, to London before moving to the United States. Menendez and Arslanian told The New York Times that they met at a Union City IHOP in December 2018, but according to the Southern District's indictment, Menendez and Arslanian began dating in February of that year.

Their whirlwind courtship is well documented, including his October 2019 marriage proposal — which Menendez sang — at the Taj Mahal in India. There were married in October 2020.

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Trial planned for May 2024

Menendez and his four co-defendants will face trial for the alleged bribery scheme on May 6. The state’s senior senator faces corruption charges, brought by the Southern District of New York, for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three businessmen in exchange for helping them enrich themselves and trying to get them out of trouble, according to an indictment unsealed on Sept. 22 in New York.

At a conference in federal court in lower Manhattan on Monday, Judge Sidney Stein scheduled the trial to start on May 6 for Menendez, his wife and their co-defendants — businessmen Hana, Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe.

The indictment alleges that between 2018 and 2022, Menendez, who until Friday served as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his wife “engaged in a corrupt relationship with Hana, Uribe and Daibes” to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for Menendez using his “power and influence to protect, to enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt.”

Bribes allegedly included cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low- or no-show job and a Mercedes-Benz — much of which is detailed in photographs in the 39-page indictment.

Katie Sobko covers the New Jersey Statehouse. Email: sobko@northjersey.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Nadine Arslanian Menendez 2018 crash under investigation by NJ AG