WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – A Florida doctor charged with corruption alongside New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez was sent back to jail for a second night Wednesday while his lawyers try to negotiate his bond over allegations of Medicare fraud.
Dr. Salomon Melgen, 60, appeared briefly in federal court in West Palm Beach, shackled and slightly disheveled and in a navy blue prison jumpsuit. Two weeks after being charged in New Jersey for alleged corruption linked to his close friend Menendez, the ophthalmologist was indicted on 76 counts of Medicare fraud Tuesday, accused of trying to bilk the health care program out of as much as $190 million.
Maria Dominguez, an attorney for Melgen, said discussions would continue with the government about the surgeon's bond. Prosecutor Alexandra Chase told U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hopkins that Melgen is a flight risk who should be held while awaiting trial. The two attorneys were set to make their cases in another hearing Thursday, where Melgen's detention was to be discussed. After that, Dominguez said she hopes her client will be released.
"We are convinced of his innocence and looking forward to having our day in court," she said after the hearing.
Dominguez said Melgen has "serious health issues" including anemia and herniated discs, and that the surgeon was due to undergo a biopsy Friday to check for prostate cancer.
In the New Jersey case, prosecutors claim Menendez intervened on his friend's behalf to gain visas for Melgen's foreign girlfriends, press Dominican officials to honor a lucrative port contract for one of the doctor's businesses and influence Medicare officials on billing disputes. In exchange, authorities say, Melgen showered the senator with flights, vacations and contributions.
The new Florida case claims Melgen falsely diagnosed many patients with serious eye conditions such as macular degeneration and retinal disorders, allowing him to then perform unnecessary and costly procedures such as laser surgery and eye injections for which he would bill Medicare. The indictment also claims that Melgen made exorbitant profits from a costly macular degeneration drug, Lucentis, by splitting single-use vials and using them multiple times but billing Medicare as if more than one vial was used. The total maximum prison time for all 76 counts — if Melgen is convicted in the Florida case and sentences are imposed consecutively — comes to a staggering 610 years.
Chase would not comment on the case outside the courthouse Wednesday, nor would Melgen's wife and son. The case will test Melgen's loyalty to Menendez, with whom he's been friends for decades, with prosecutors likely seeking the doctor's testimony against the senator. The senator has said he and Melgen celebrated holidays and weddings together, mourned together at funerals and exchanged gifts on birthdays.