A Florida eye doctor charged with bribing U.S. Senator Robert Menendez appealed an order denying him bail in a separate Medicare-fraud case, arguing a judge erroneously ruled that he posed a “serious risk” of fleeing the U.S.
Salomon Melgen, 60, filed a motion Monday seeking bail in West Palm Beach, Florida, where a U.S. magistrate judge denied his bid for release on May 8. Melgen hired new lawyers who said prosecution arguments were “filled with misstatements, glaring omissions and rank supposition.”
Melgen is also accused of lavishing almost $1 million in luxury travel and campaign donations on Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who sought to help him in personal and business matters. Menendez was indicted with him in New Jersey. Both pleaded not guilty and are seeking to have that case moved to Washington.
In Florida, Melgen’s new lawyers argued the court improperly relied on prosecution arguments that the evidence against him is overwhelming. They said the judge should have looked at other factors in fashioning the least restrictive conditions to assure Melgen’s appearance in court.
“The court should focus on Dr. Melgen’s past cooperation with the government’s investigation, his reliable court attendance, his family and community ties -- including length of residence in the community, and his physical and mental condition,” Melgen’s lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors charge that he bilked Medicare out of a “substantial portion” of $105 million in reimbursements after billing more than $190 million from 2008 through 2013.
Melgen falsely diagnosed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of patients with age-related macular degeneration, which causes a rapid loss of vision, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bell argued in court on May 8. Some of those patients had other eye diseases, were blind or had glass or prosthetic eyes, she said.
Melgen used those false diagnoses to bill Medicare for expensive, medically unnecessary tests and treatments, such as injections or lasers, so he could file “tens of millions of dollars” in false claims, she said. Patient files show extensive falsified records, she said.
While he posted 10 percent of $1.5 million bail in New Jersey after his April 1 indictment there, he now faces life in prison in Florida, she said. The prosecutor also said Melgen has extensive business, family and property ties to his native Dominican Republic, giving him reason to flee.
In New Jersey, federal prosecutors said Menendez, 61, flew on Melgen’s jet, stayed at his Dominican villa and used his credit-card reward points for a Paris hotel suite.
In turn, Melgen bribed Menendez to help him with a Medicare billing dispute, with a contract he wanted enforced in the Dominican Republic, and in visa applications for girlfriends from Brazil, Ukraine and his native country, the U.S. charged.
Melgen replaced attorneys Maria Dominguez and Anne Lyons, both of Miami Shores, Florida, with Matthew Menchel of Kobre & Kim LLP in Miami and Kirk Ogrosky of Arnold & Porter LLP in Washington. The latter pair represented Melgen before he hired Dominguez and Lyons earlier this year.
“I asked to be allowed to resign from the case,” Dominguez said in an interview. “It was fully discussed with my client over the past couple weeks.”
Menchel and Ogrosky filed an emergency request asking U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra to revoke the order by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hopkins. On Tuesday, Marra denied the bid, ruling the motion “will be considered in the normal course.” He set no timetable.
Melgen’s lawyers argued that for the past 36 years he has lived in the U.S., where his son, daughter and grandson also reside. His wife, they said, has a serious heart condition requiring a pacemaker.
“In sum, everyone who is dear to Dr. Melgen lives in South Florida,” they said.
Melgen, they said, has anemia and herniated discs and needs a prostate biopsy and immediate dental care.
They argued that his bail conditions should be similar to those in New Jersey, where he surrendered U.S. and Dominican passports. Melgen is selling his private jet, they said, and agreed to dock his 25-foot boat away from his waterfront home.
The case is U.S. v. Melgen, 15-cr-80049, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (West Palm Beach). The New Jersey case is U.S. v. Menendez, 15-cr-00155, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).