Doctor Linked to Senator Menendez’s Corruption Case Is Convicted of Fraud
According to Rapporteur Report From, NY Times, Link, The doctor, Salomon E. Melgen, a prominent ophthalmologist, has been the longtime political benefactor of Mr. Menendez, a Democrat. Both face federal corruption charges in an unrelated case scheduled to go on trial in September in Newark. The senator is accused of trading political favors for free trips on the doctor’s private jet, lavish vacations to his resort home in the Dominican Republic and a stay at a five-star hotel in Paris.
A jury in Palm Beach County, Fla., found Dr. Melgen guilty on all 67 counts of Medicare fraud, and according to prosecutors in the case, he could spend at least 15 years in prison. The conviction and the sentence he now faces could increase pressure on Dr. Melgen to cooperate with the authorities in the case against Mr. Menendez, his co-defendant in their pending trial.
After he is sentenced in the Florida case in July, Dr. Melgen, if he should choose to cooperate, could seek to have that sentence reduced. A provision of federal law allows a judge, upon a motion by the government, to reduce a defendant’s sentence if the defendant is found to have provided “substantial assistance in investigating or prosecuting another person.”
A lawyer for Dr. Melgen in the Florida trial, Kirk Ogrosky, said the doctor views the two cases as completely separate.
“It will have no impact on what will happen in New Jersey,” Mr. Ogrosky said in a phone interview. “He intends to go to trial in New Jersey in September, and nothing about the Florida case changes that.”
A lawyer for Mr. Menendez said that the senator was “saddened for his longtime friend” but that the conviction in Florida would have “no bearing” on the bribery charges against his client.
“This verdict will have no impact on him,” the lawyer, Abbe David Lowell, said in a statement. “Dr. Melgen’s case focused solely on the day-to-day operations of his medical practice and the private care of his patients — specifics of which the senator could not be aware, nor has it ever been suggested otherwise.”
Mr. Menendez and Dr. Melgen have pleaded not guilty to the bribery charges, and Mr. Menendez has spent two years aggressively fighting them. They have been close friends since the 1990s, and the bribery charges revolve around their relationship.
Dr. Melgen gave $700,000 through his company, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, to the Senate Majority PAC, a so-called super PAC to support Senate Democrats, and instructed that the contributions aid Mr. Menendez’s 2012 re-election campaign.
For the help Mr. Menendez received, prosecutors contend, the senator urged the Obama administration to alter the Medicare reimbursement policy in a way that would make millions for Dr. Melgen. In 2012 alone, Dr. Melgen received $21 million in Medicare reimbursements.
In addition, prosecutors said, Mr. Menendez tried to push a port security deal that involved Dr. Melgen and worked to obtain United States travel visas for the doctor’s foreign girlfriends.
Mr. Menendez was rewarded for his help, according to prosecutors, and received free trips on Dr. Melgen’s jet and spent three nights in an executive suite in Paris for a trip valued at nearly $5,000. After an ethics complaint was filed against Mr. Menendez for not reporting trips to the Dominican Republic as gifts, he wrote a $58,500 check to reimburse Dr. Melgen’s company.
Federal investigators started to look into Dr. Melgen’s billings to Medicare because he was charging a significantly higher rate for a medication to treat macular degeneration than his peers were. The government said he billed for one vial of the medicine for each patient when he had in fact used one vial to treat three or four patients.
Mr. Menendez came under federal scrutiny when he sought to help Dr. Melgen in the billing dispute, calling the Medicare director at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2009 and mentioning it at a meeting with the acting administrator in 2012.