The Florida eye doctor at the heart of the indictment against New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez appeared resolute in his – and the U.S. lawmaker's – innocence in the face of corruption charges leveled against them late Wednesday by the federal government.
In an exclusive interview with Rick Sanchez for Fox News Latino over the phone Thursday morning, West Palm Beach eye doctor and Menendez political donor Salomon Melgen – who would not go on record at the advice of his lawyers – was adamant that in no way did he profit from his relationship with the New Jersey senator.
"Defiant is a good word to describe him," Sanchez said. "He truly feels that his relationship with Bob Menendez has been a negative for him."
The indictment on Wednesday charged the New Jersey Democrat with 14 counts, including bribery and conspiracy, over his ties to Melgen, who was also charged in the case.
The indictment from a grand jury in New Jersey was the latest development in a federal investigation that came into public view when federal authorities raided Melgen's medical offices two years ago. The investigation focused on whether the senator had improperly advocated on Melgen's behalf, including by intervening in a Medicare billing dispute.
The billing centers on the pharmaceutical company Genentech allegedly ripping him off for $8.9 million. Convinced he was in the clear, Melgen says that he billed for the number of patients he treated with Lucentis, a drug that treats macular edema, not the amount of the drug he ordered for his patients.
Genentech Medicare argues that he should only treat one patient per vial and, if need be, throw the rest of it away. Melgen said it's crazy to throw away medicine that could be used on patients.
Medicare hit the doctor with the $8.9 million bill, which he paid, but then Melgen decided to call Menendez because he felt wronged.
Melgen argues that he received absolutely no relief, no usable information and no favors from his call to Menendez, but federal prosecutors see more to the call than just one friend asking for help from another.
Menendez has already acknowledged that he had taken several round-trip flights to the Dominican Republic on Melgen's luxury jet that, initially, were not properly reimbursed. But the document spells out many additional gifts, such as a Paris hotel stay and access to a Dominican resort that prosecutors say were never reported on financial disclosure forms.
In exchange for those and other gifts, prosecutors allege, Menendez sought to smooth approval of the visa application process for several of Melgen's foreign girlfriends, worked to protect a lucrative contract Melgen held to provide cargo screening services to the Dominican Republic and intervened in the Medicare dispute.
In 2013, in an email exchange one day after Melgen and Menendez had golfed together in Florida, Menendez told a staffer to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop them from donating shipping container monitoring and surveillance equipment to the Dominican Republic, according to the indictment. Melgen had a contract to provide exclusive cargo screening services in Dominican ports, and the Customs and Border Protection plan would have hurt his financial interests, prosecutors say.
In advocating for Melgen's business interests, prosecutors say, Menendez pursued meetings with the heads of executive agencies and tried to solicit the help of other U.S. senators.
Menendez has acknowledged taking actions that could benefit Melgen, among them contacting U.S. health agencies to ask about billing practices and policies. But the lawmaker has said he did nothing wrong and the interactions he’s had with the doctor were reflections of a close friendship dating two decades.
"What hurt Melgen most is that he really likes Bob Menendez and they have been friends for many year," Sanchez said. "He told me that he is being victimized for his relationship with Bob Menendez."
Melgen also told Sanchez that an anti-Latino, anti-regional agenda is partly behind the charges leveled against him.
"He says it's because he is a very successful Latino doctor,” Sanchez said, “and he has been made to feel like he doesn't deserve this success."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.