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N.J. Sen. Robert Menendez, Florida eye surgeon indicted on corruption charges

Senator allegedly helped Salomon Melgen, M.D. dispute Medicare bills, secure visas for girlfriends; received $750K in donations, private jet trips

The Department of Justice indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on 14 federal corruption charges stemming from his longtime personal and political relationship with a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist.

Menendez allegedly intervened on behalf of Salomon Melgen, M.D. on several federal matters.

"It is the fundamental responsibility of the Department of Justice to hold public officials accountable by conducting thorough investigations and seeking an indictment when the facts and the law support it," Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a DOJ statement.

Menendez met with former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in August 2012 to discuss a 2009 audit that concluded that Melgen overbilled Medicare $8.9 million, FierceHealthPayer: AntiFraud previously reported.

Melgen used single vials of eye medication multiple times--sometimes on multiple patients--and sought reimbursement for multiple uses, the indictment found. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services told Menendez in July 2012 that it would not change its reimbursement policy and that using a single dose multiple times could actually increase infection rates, the indictment said. After that conversation, Menendez arranged the meeting with Sebelius and Reid.  

In addition, in the spring of 2012, Menendez allegedly urged the State Department to pressure the government of the Dominican Republic to enforce a port security contract that would benefit a company owned by Melgen, the indictment said. Finally, Menendez also allegedly pressured State Department officials to secure student visas for Melgen's girlfriends who lived in Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine.

Melgen, for his part, made more than $750,000 in campaign contributions to Menendez, whom he met in 1993, FierceHealthPayer: AntiFraud previously reported. In addition, the 68-page indictment spells out several previously undisclosed gifts from Melgen to Menendez.

In one instance, Melgen used American Express points to pay for a three-night stay worth nearly $5,000 at the Park Hyatt in Paris, in a suite with a limestone bath and an enclosed rain shower, according to the indictment. Prosecutors allege that he booked the room so Menendez could see "a woman with whom he had a personal relationship."

Menendez also received 19  flights on Melgen's private jet, primarily between the United States and the Dominican Republic, where Melgen owned a villa at an exclusive resort. The Senator paid for two of the flights from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic in early 2013, when the federal investigation began, the Washington Post reported--but at that time he made no mention of the other 17 flights or the other gifts received from 2007 to 2012.

All told, Menendez faces 14 corruption charges, while Melgen faces 13. They each face eight counts of bribery, three counts of alleged services fraud, one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Travel Act. Menendez alone faces one count of making false statements.

Menendez denied the charges. "Prosecutors at the Justice Department do not know the difference between friendship and corruption," Menendez said at a news conference, according to the Wall Street Journal. "I'm confident at the end of the day I will be vindicated and they will be exposed."

Legal experts told Politico that prosecutors have a strong case against Menendez. Though no emails or phone recordings explicitly link Melgen's gifts to Menendez's political favors, the specific timeline spelled out in the indictment could help tie the gifts to the favors. The "friendship defense" will likely rub the jury the wrong way as well, the article said.

For more:
- read the Department of Justice indictment (.pdf) and statement
- here's the Washington Post article
- read the Wall Street Journal article
- here's the Politico story

Related Articles:
The story of a wealthy doctor, a powerful senator and a friendship put to the test
N.J. Sen. Robert Menendez faces corruption charges stemming from ties to Florida ophthalmologist
Millionaire docs accused of Medicare overbilling, fraud