Dr. Salomon Melgen, a key figure in the bribery and corruption case against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, was convicted on Friday of improperly billing the federal government for more than $100 million in medical insurance payments.
After three days of deliberations, a jury in West Palm Beach, Fla. delivered 67 guilty verdicts against Melgen on charges that he submitted claims to Medicare for eye procedures and tests that were either unnecessary or never performed.
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During a seven-week trial, physicians serving as expert witnesses for the prosecution provided gruesome testimony that Melgen had performed lucrative eye injections on numerous patients whose eye conditions did not merit such treatment. Defense witnesses said the wealthy ophthalmologist provided care to patients whose cases were particularly difficult and did so without regard to their ability to pay.
Menendez and Melgen were indicted in a separate case in federal court in Newarkin April 2015 over allegations that the New Jersey Democrat used his office to help Melgen in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from the Florida doctor, a longtime friend and campaign donor.
A joint trial for Menendez and Melgen on the corruption charges is set to open in New Jersey in August. The New Jersey Democrat has denied any wrongdoing.
The slew of convictions means the 62-year-old Melgen now faces the possibility of what could effectively be a life sentence in the Florida case. A federal prosecutor said Friday that sentencing guidelines call for the doctor to receive 15 to 20 years behind bars. That prospect seems certain to intensify pressure on him to offer testimony against Menendez in the New Jersey case.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra set sentencing for Melgen for July 14. He remains free on an $18 million bond.
Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell insisted Friday that the guilty verdicts against Melgen would have no effect on the corruption case.
“The issues involved in Dr. Melgen’s case in South Florida had no bearing on the allegations made against the senator, and this verdict will have no impact on him,” Lowell said. “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.”
Lowell’s statement opened by indicating Menendez’s concern for Melgen in the wake of Friday’s verdicts.
“I have spoken to Senator Menendez and he is saddened for his long-time friend and is thinking of his family on this difficult day,” the defense attorney said.
While Menendez’s defense maintains there is no connection between the cases, one of the favors the senator is accused of doing for Melgen as a result of his largesse is intervening with federal officials — including those as senior as former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius—in order to resolve Melgen’s billing disputes with Medicare.
Those interventions proved unsuccessful, as Melgen was forced to repay millions to the federal government and eventually was indicted for submitting dozens of false claims to the insurance program for the elderly.
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