Doctor tied to Sen. Menendez case set for fraud sentencing

Prosecutors say a prominent Florida eye doctor accused of bribing Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey should get a 30-year sentence for a separate Medicare fraud scheme that they say stole more than $100 million from the federal government.

A three-day sentencing hearing for Dr. Salomon Melgen, 63, is scheduled to begin Tuesday on 67 counts, including health care fraud, submitting false claims and falsifying records in patients’ files. U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra could give Melgen a life sentence, but he has wide discretion. Melgen’s attorneys want less than 10 years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Stefin argued in court documents that Melgen “was the highest-paid (Medicare) provider in the country for most, if not all, of those years” between 2008 and 2013.

“The crimes committed by the defendant were truly horrific. The defendant not only defrauded the Medicare program of tens of millions of dollars, but he abused his patients — who were elderly, infirm, and often disabled — in the process,” Stefin wrote. “These unnecessary procedures resulted in pain, discomfort, and, in some instances, endophthalmitis, a serious eye infection that can lead to vision loss and blindness…. These ‘treatments’ involved sticking needles in their eyes, burning their retinas with a laser, and injecting dyes into their bloodstream.”

Melgen’s attorneys say prosecutors are exaggerating Medicare’s loss, and say some patients testified the Dominican-born, Harvard-trained doctor improved their sight.

Kirk Ogrosky and Matthew Menchel argue in court documents that the proposed sentence is comparable to what terrorists get, which they say is “irrational on its face.” Because of Melgen’s age and poor health, any lengthy sentence would be equivalent to a life term, they say.

They say a sentence of 30 years or more would result in Melgen being housed in a maximum security prison, which they called “an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers,” given his lack of criminal history. They want him sent to a minimum security camp, which they say would require a sentence of less than 10 years. Prosecutors dispute that, saying the federal Bureau of Prisons would decide his placement regardless of the sentence’s length.

Ogrosky and Menchel have unsuccessfully argued that the judge should overturn the jury’s guilty verdicts. They acknowledged during Melgen’s trial that he made billing and treatment mistakes, but said they were unintentional, and therefore not a crime.

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