Evidence proves a politically connected Florida eye doctor convicted of Medicare fraud stole $136 million, prosecutors insisted on Thursday, countering a defense argument that the fraud added up to just $64,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Chase said Dr. Salomon Melgen’s practice was so “permeated” with fraud that U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra should accept the government’s estimate.
Chase said that even if the 63-year-old Melgen stole $65 million — about half as much — he would be eligible for a life sentence.
Prosecutors are seeking 30 years, saying the doctor subjected elderly patients to painful tests and treatments they didn’t need, for diseases they didn’t have, to support a vacation home in his native Dominican Republic, lavish trips to Europe and outside business interests.
Melgen’s attorneys argued earlier Thursday that the government only proved Melgen stole about $64,000. They want a short sentence.
Melgen’s lawyer Josh Sheptow portrayed his client as ahead of his time, injecting patients with then-experimental drugs that are now approved. Medicare does not pay for experimental treatments, so suggested that Melgen may have falsified billing statements to get around those restrictions. That would still be fraud, but Sheptow said the treatments were legitimate, so the government didn’t lose anything with many of his patients.
Melgen was found guilty of 67 counts, including health care fraud, submitting false claims and falsifying records in patients’ files.
Melgen is charged separately with bribing New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in exchange for interceding with the Medicare officials investigating his practice and other favors, including getting visas for his foreign mistresses. A federal jury in New Jersey hung on that case last month, and prosecutors there have not said whether they will retry them.
Melgen’s attorneys rested much of their case for a short sentence on the doctor’s use of the drug Lucentis between 2008 and 2013. At the time, Medicare approved its use only for wet age-related macular degeneration or ARMD, a retinal disease that can cause blindness.
Lucentis is injected in tiny doses — 0.5 milliliters, or a sixty-fourth of a teaspoon. It comes in single-use vials that contain four times that amount — a sixteenth of a teaspoon. The manufacturer’s instructions say doctors should pull the vial’s entire contents into the syringe and then squeeze out and dispose of the excess — about a…