By most appearances, Dr. Salomon Melgen embodies the great American immigrant success story: A native of the Dominican Republic, Melgen has earned renown as one of South Florida’s leading eye surgeons. He owns a sprawling, waterfront home in North Palm Beach valued at about $3 million. He gives generously to charities and rubs elbows with prominent politicians.
“He’s a man that loves the limelight. He always has,’’ said Patricia Goodman, 70, a former office administrator and personal assistant to Melgen, who is now at the center of two FBI probes, one involving published allegations that he provided free trips to the Dominican Republic and prostitutes for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.
Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called the allegations a politically motivated smear by a right-leaning website.
FBI agents raided Melgen’s West Palm Beach office Tuesday night, apparently seeking records related to the second investigation, one involving possible Medicare fraud. The feds continued to search the premises on Wednesday, joined by agents from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suggesting that the raid was linked to Medicare.
Lawrence Duffy, a criminal defense attorney representing Melgen, said his client is unaware of the reason for the FBI raid.
“The government has not informed Dr. Melgen what its concerns are,’’ Duffy said in an email to The Miami Herald. “However, we are confident that Dr. Melgen has acted appropriately at all times.’’
Goodman said Melgen never hosted a fundraiser for Menendez during the time that she worked for the doctor from about 1989 to 1999. But she planned all of Melgen’s parties during those years, and said he helped raise millions for political campaigns — and had a blast doing it.
“He liked the excitement of it,’’ Goodman said on Wednesday from her home in Palm Harbor on Florida’s Gulf Coast. “He liked being with the big shots. That was his thing. He was very impressed with the politicians.’’
The politicians were equally impressed with Melgen, 58.
Among the politicians whom Melgen has befriended, and for whom he has hosted private fundraisers at his 5,000-square-foot home: former U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd and Bob Graham, late Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles — who also was a patient of Melgen’s — former President Bill Clinton, and Leonel Fernández, former president of the Dominican Republic.
Goodman noted that Bill and Hillary Clinton vacationed at the doctor’s home in Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, and that he became good friends with Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee chairman and co-chair of Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign.
“He used to go to Dr. Melgen’s home in Casa de Campo and play golf all the time,’’ Goodman said of McAuliffe.
Behind Melgen’s conspicuous success and powerful friendships, though, Goodman said, she also saw a man who behaved recklessly in his private life.
“There were things going on that I didn’t like, not necessarily in the office,’’ she said. “His personal life got to take a toll on me.’’
So much so, Goodman said, that she declined to return to work for Melgen in 1999 after she was diagnosed with cancer.