Florida Doctor Tied to Menendez Convicted of Medicare Fraud

(Bloomberg) -- A South Florida eye doctor who is accused of paying bribes to New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez was convicted in a separate case of defrauding Medicare of tens of millions of dollars. His conviction raises the possibility that the physician may try to help prosecutors in their case against the lawmaker.

Salomon Melgen, 62, was convicted Friday of dozens of counts of health-care fraud in federal court in West Palm Beach. Prosecutors said he purposely misdiagnosed elderly patients, most of them with a type of macular degeneration, and then conducted unnecessary invasive tests and provided expensive treatments. Prosecutors said a large portion of $105 million he billed to Medicare from 2004 to 2013 was fraudulent. 

Both Menendez, a Democrat, and Melgen face a bribery trial on Sept. 6 in New Jersey. Menendez is accused of taking almost $1 million in campaign donations and luxury travel from Melgen in exchange for helping the doctor in a Medicare overbilling case, a contract dispute with the Dominican Republic and visa applications for three girlfriends. Both men pleaded not guilty.

With Melgen’s conviction, U.S. prosecutors may consider trying to gain Melgen’s cooperation in the New Jersey case against Menendez, said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor. To do so, Melgen would have to plead guilty in New Jersey, and prosecutors in Florida would have to agree to seek leniency for him at sentencing for Friday’s conviction, Mintz said.

Possible Cooperation

“It would only make sense for Dr. Melgen to assist prosecutors in New Jersey if he was also going to get the benefit of that cooperation at his sentencing in Florida,” Mintz said.

Kirk Ogrosky, a lawyer for Melgen, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

At the trial, Melgen’s attorneys claimed he made billing mistakes and that the majority of his patients credited him with saving their vision.

“For years, Dr. Melgen knowingly made false diagnoses and submitted fraudulent bills in order to illegally line his pockets with millions of dollars intended for the legitimate diagnosis and treatment of Medicare patients,” Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg said in a statement. “Today’s 67-count guilty verdict speaks volumes about the extent of this fraud.”

The case is U.S. v. Melgen, 15-cr-80049, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (West Palm Beach.)