Defense Attorneys Portray Melgen, Menendez as Friends in Opening Arguments of Corruption Trial

September 8, 2017: By Joan McKenna
Salomon Melgen

Salomon Melgen

Defense attorneys for Florida retina specialist Salomon Melgen and US Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, are building a portrait of their clients as simply friends in a federal corruption trial that got underway Sept. 6 in New Jersey. Prosecutors allege the defendants’ behavior amounted to bribery.

The jury trial is examining whether Menendez lobbied for Melgen’s business interests in exchange for gifts and political donations. It is expected to last nearly two months.

Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Justice Department allegations include a claim that Menendez intervened to help Melgen try to resolve his $8.9 million billing dispute with Medicare in 2009, after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services accused Melgen of overbilling for Lucentis vials.

Menendez in return received luxury trips, flights on private jets, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, prosecutors claim.

US District Judge William Walls has shown little patience for courtroom antics and “irrelevant” details about swanky hotels, saying Sept. 7 that he was “not going to let this be a tabloid trial.”

In a separate trial earlier in 2017, Melgen, 62, was convicted of 67 counts of Medicare fraud. A sentencing hearing was postponed Aug. 10, a day before it was to set to start, as all parties agreed to move it to December due the current trial.

Melgen, who operated the now closed Vitreo-Retinal Consultants of the Palm Beaches, surrendered his medical license following the conviction, CNN reported Sept. 5.

Melgen is not expected to testify against Menendez, cooling speculation that prosecutors were trying to get Melgen to turn on Menendez for a lesser sentence.

In Melgen’s trial, he was accused of falsely diagnosing patients with macular degeneration and other retinal disorders, performing unnecessary procedures, and overcharging for Lucentis by splitting single-use bottles into multiple doses but charging Medicare per patient.

US prosecutors alleged that, between January 2008 and December 2013, Melgen billed Medicare for more than $190 million, for which he was reimbursed more than $105 million. The government said a substantial portion of these payments were obtained through fraudulent billing.

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