Report of fatal New Jersey car crash fills in key gap in Menendez federal bribery investigation
The then-future wife of powerful U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Nadine Menendez, killed a man with her car in December 2018 and was sent from the scene without being charged, according to new details that match an auto “accident” that prosecutors cite in their sweeping federal indictment of the pair as a pivotal motivation for one of the senator's alleged bribes.
Richard Koop, 49, was in front of his Bogota, New Jersey, home when he was killed almost instantly around 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2018, according to details of a police investigation first reported Wednesday by The Record of New Jersey. Relatives and friends of Koop told The New York Times that Koop had left a bar in a rideshare that dropped him off across the street from his apartment.
RELATED: Video surfaces of Sen. Menendez’s wife Nadine Arslanian striking, killing pedestrian in 2018
A Bogota Police Department report said Nadine Menendez, who wasn't yet married to the senator at the time and went by Nadine Arslanian, "was not at fault in this crash. Mr. Koop was jaywalking and did not cross the street at an intersection or in a marked crosswalk.” There is no evidence in the file of her being screened for drugs or alcohol.
A lawyer for Nadine Menendez, David Schertler, did not immediately respond to a message left Thursday by The Associated Press. The AP also asked a spokesperson in Menendez's office to pass along a message requesting comment from her.
In dashcam video recorded at the scene, Nadine Menendez is heard asking officers why Koop was in the road. She tells police that she “didn’t do anything wrong." In her police interview, she said that Koop “ran across the roadway and jumped onto the hood” of her car. A spokesperson for the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office said Bogota police asked the county to help with the investigation, but only after the local officials had determined it was not a criminal case.
Koop's sister, Rosemarie Koop-Angelicola, told the AP on Thursday that her family has questions about whether the death was fully investigated.
“We understand that true accidents happen," she said. “We're willing to accept that, but only with a full and proper investigation. There's gaping holes in this."
Koop-Angelicola said her brother, who worked a variety of jobs, including in construction, was friendly, funny and talkative — and coached his son's youth soccer teams.
“Rich was about the nicest, down-to-earth person you'd ever meet,” she said.
The vehicle, a black Mercedes-Benz sedan, was left with a shattered windshield and a front end that had been badly damaged by hitting Koop and a nearby parked car, according to the report.
She texted Wael Hana, one of three businessmen also indicted alongside the senator and his wife in the alleged bribery scheme, about a month later regarding her lack of a vehicle, according to the federal indictment in New York.
Prosecutors said that Nadine Menendez's need of a car was so acute that the senator — who married her in October 2020 — acted to try to suppress an unrelated criminal prosecution for a New Jersey businessman in exchange for a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible, which she signed papers for in April 2019.
The senator and his wife are scheduled to stand trial starting May 6 on charges that they accepted bribes of cash, gold bars and the car from the businessmen, who are accused of seeking his help with foreign affairs. Menendez, formerly the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is accused of passing information to Egyptian military and intelligence officials.
Both have pleaded not guilty, as have the others charged in the case.
Menendez has remained in office despite calls from key Democrats for him to resign.