A federal jury convicted a top campaign donor to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, on 67 counts of Medicare fraud on Friday.
The guilty verdict is an ill omen for Menendez, a Democrat and New Jersey’s senior senator, who has been charged in a separate case with taking bribes from Melgen in exchange for official actions. Menendez has denied wrongdoing and his trial is scheduled to begin in September.
Melgen faces 15 to 20 years in prison, according to The Palm Beach Post.
If they are gunning for Menendez, prosecutors may ask Melgen to testify against the senator in exchange for some leniency. Melgen’s attorney told The Post he plans to appeal.
Abbe Lowell, the attorney for Menendez, said after the verdict he is confident the senator will be vindicated.
“I have spoken to Senator Menendez and he is saddened for his long-time friend and is thinking of his family on this difficult day,” Lowell said in a statement. “As we have known for the past two years, the issues involved in Dr. Melgen’s case in South Florida had no bearing on the allegations made against the senator, and this verdict will have no impact on him.”
Melgen was found guilty of bilking up to $105 million from Medicare through various methods from 2008 to 2013. Prosecutors charged that Melgen would overcharge Medicare for his use of the drug Lucentis, which is used to treat macular degeneration, by splitting one vial into four doses and billing the government four times. He would also order unnecessary tests and treatments for some patients at his eye clinic in West Palm Beach, prosecutors said. Lowell said Menendez could not have been aware all that was happening, “nor has it ever been suggested otherwise.”
Menendez is accused of taking trips to the Dominican Republic and France on Melgen’s dime in exchange for meeting with federal health officials to discuss the same Medicare billing procedures affecting Melgen, although the senator’s attorneys have said Menendez never discussed Melgen in particular.
Menendez in 2013 reimbursed Melgen for two flights to the Dominican Republic worth $58,500. Prosecutors also charged that Menendez pushed to secure visas for Melgen’s foreign girlfriends.