Salomon Melgen, the wealthy eye doctor at center of US Senator Robert Menendez’s corruption case, was found guilty of all 69 counts of health care fraud charged against him today by a jury in Florida.
The jury sent out a note about 2:25 p.m. Friday saying it had a verdict, on its third day and after about 20 hours of deliberating. Melgen was immediately taken into custody .
During their deliberations, jurors asked U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra for clarification about a chart prepared by one witness who prosecutors called to prove Melgen’s guilt and they sought a transcript of testimony from an expert who spent nearly two days on the witness stand, explaining complex Medicare billing regulations.
Melgen, who bilked Medicare out of $105 million by giving patients treatments and tests that couldn’t help them between 2008 and 2013, was guilty of 69 charges of federal health care fraud.
After the two month trial, 12 jurors began jury deliberating at mid-morning and retired for the day just before 5 p.m. without reaching a verdict. deliberated for roughly seven hours Tuesday
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Chase told jury during closing arguments that Melgen, 62, repeatedly performed unnecessary tests and treatments on his mostly elderly patients to “line his pockets.” He faces the equivalent of a life sentence for the 69 counts against him.
He is charged separately in New Jersey with bribing Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, who has denied any wrongdoing. That trial is scheduled for the fall.
“The senator and I have become like brothers, like friends,” Melgen told Bloomberg News in a 2013 interview. Menendez was recently elected New Jersey’s first Hispanic congressman when he met Melgen at a Florida fundraiser in 1993.
That led to his friendship with Menendez, during which Melgen paid for trips that he and the senator took to France and to the doctor’s home at a Dominican resort. Menendez reimbursed Melgen $58,500 after the trips became public knowledge.
Since meeting, the friends both prospered — the Hudson County Democrat is now one of New Jersey’s two U.S. senators and Melgen donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns.
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey say Melgen’s gifts to Menendez were actually bribes. In return, they say, the senator obtained visas for the married Melgen’s foreign mistresses, interceded with Medicare officials when they began investigating Melgen’s practice and pressured the State Department to help Melgen with a business dispute he had with the Dominican government.
Menendez and Melgen were indicted on conspiracy, bribery, and fraud charges on April 1, 2015. Two weeks later, on April 15, Melgen was indicted on Medicare fraud charges.
Prosecutors allege that Menendez accepted lavish gifts, including campaign donations, in exchange for using his political influence to help Melgen’s business dealings.
In 2012, Melgen’s business gave more than $700,000 to Majority PAC, a political action committee supporting Democratic candidates that spent more than $582,000 to help Menendez win a second term in the Senate. Melgen and his family also donated about $50,000 to other campaigns and political committees supporting Menendez.
Menendez also took three flights on Melgen’s private jet that he did not disclose. He later reimbursed Melgen $69,750 for the trips, using $55,800 of his personal funds and $11,250 from his campaign account.
The FBI raided Melgen’s medical offices in Florida in 2013, after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that Melgen over-billed the government by $8.9 million.
Menendez admitted that he intervened with federal health offices on Melgen’s behalf and the senator said got involved with the State Department concerning a port-security contract in the Dominican Republic held by a company owned in part by the eye doctor.
Menendez says helping his friend is a normal part of being a member of Congress, but federal prosecutors and a grand jury say they were illegal favors.
Menendez had unsuccessfully sought to have the charges thrown out by the US Supreme Court but it denied a petition claiming that the lawmaker cannot be charged with improperly aiding Melgen argued under the Speech or Debate clause — a constitutional privilege that shields lawmakers and staff from legal action over legitimate legislative activities.
“Let me be very clear: I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” Menendez said, contending that he did nothing wrong. “And I’m not going anywhere.”
A federal judge in New Jersey has set a tentative Sept. 2017 date for the bribery and corruption trial of Menendez, more than two-and-a-half years after he was charged, according to a new court order.
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