The eye doctor once accused of bribing New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez was sentenced to 17 years in prison Thursday for stealing $73 million from the Medicare program.
Salomon Melgen, who was the most highest paid Medicare doctor in the country from 2009 to 2013, was ordered to pay $42 million in restitution to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Associated Press reports. The judge noted that he may be required to pay more in the future. Though Melgen has not yet been released on bond since his conviction, he will likely be sent to a low security prison.
Melgen was convicted on 67 charges related to defrauding the government program in April 2017, but his sentencing was delayed due to the corruption trial against Menendez last fall.
Melgen was convicted of building his practice by over charging patients on Medicare, falsifying medical records. He would claim he treated both eyes of patients who had only one eye, for example. He would also convince elderly patients to take tests they didn’t need.
Federal prosecutors argued that Melgen gained $136 million due to his scheme, and Melgen’s defense attorneys said that only $64,000 improper billing statements could be proved. U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra found that the evidence shows the fraud brought in $73 million.
Melgen and Menendez became friends when the doctor got into politics in the 1990s, becoming a top donor for Democratic causes. He paid for trips he took with Menendez to the Dominican Republic and France. Menendez was so well-known that Melgen’s personal pilots knew his drink order and would stock his favorite soda in the cabin when he flew with them.
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Prosecutors alleged that Melgen was the “patron” to Menendez, and the two had a “corrupt pact” that entailed lavish gifts from the wealthy doctor. Menendez allegedly took Melgen’s gifts and in return helped scuttle CMS investigations into the doctor’s fraud and organized visas for Melgen’s foreign mistresses.
Menendez reimbursed the doctor $58,500 for the trips after the gifts were publicized. The bribery case against Menendez and Melgen ended in a mistrial after the jury deciding the case became deadlocked in November. The Department of Justice considered retrying Menendez for bribery in January, but suspended the case after a judge dismissed seven out of 18 charges.
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