It wasn’t just New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and other Democratic politicians who got big checks from Dr. Salomon Melgen.
The $1.1 million that the prominent North Palm Beach eye doctor has steered toward candidates and political committees since the 1990s pales in comparison with the tens of millions of dollars Melgen has invested — and sometimes lost — in entities ranging from Wall Street firms to a wildly successful data business to a failed online fantasy sports site.
Melgen is the plaintiff in a variety of state and federal lawsuits that claim that he, his wife, Flor, and a Melgen-controlled business have sustained about $68 million in investment losses over the past decade. In each case, Melgen says he lost money as a result of misrepresentations or fraud by individuals or the businesses in which he invested.
Melgen has been in the national spotlight since agents from the FBI and federal Department of Health and Human Services raided his West Palm Beach office last month and hauled away dozens of boxes of materials.
“Until the government executed a search warrant last week, Dr. Melgen had no knowledge of any government investigation. Dr. Melgen is cooperating fully with the government and has yet to receive any notice from the government as to what it is investigating,” Melgen attorney Alan Reider said last week.
“In the ordinary course of business as a Medicare provider, Dr. Melgen’s claims are subject to review by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its contractors. Like many physicians, Dr. Melgen has been subject to these routine audits. Those audits have been resolved administratively, consistent with Medicare requirements,” Reider said.
Menendez, who has received more than $700,000 in direct and indirect campaign help from Melgen and has made personal trips to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s private plane, acknowledged last week that his office contacted CMS and “raised concerns” about billing policies in 2009 and 2012. But Menendez denied trying to intervene with government regulators on Melgen’s behalf.
Melgen family members gave $33,700 to Menendez’s 2012 reelection campaign, $50,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and $60,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee while Menendez was its chairman during the 2010 election cycle. Melgen’s Vitreo-Retinal Consultants also gave $700,000 last year to Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC that poured $582,500 into Menendez’s reelection efforts.
Menendez flew to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s plane for two personal trips in 2010. Menendez did not report the flights as gifts, prompting New Jersey Republicans to file an ethics complaint in November. Menendez recently said he reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for the flights in January, attributing the delay in paying for them to an oversight.
Melgen can afford a private plane, multimillion-dollar investments and big political contributions because of business success apart from his medical practice, said attorney Jack Scarola, who has represented Melgen in a variety of matters over the years.
Melgen’s résumé says he was a co-founder of Seisint, a data company that was purchased by LexisNexis for $775 million in 2004. Seisint created a data-mining tool that it said could help law enforcement track down terrorists.
“Dr. Melgen was a seed investor in a high-tech company that did extremely well. He made a great deal of money in that particular investment,” Scarola said. “He did not make those kinds of dollars practicing medicine, although he has a very successful practice.”
Melgen also has an ownership stake in ICSSI, a company that had a long-dormant contract with the Dominican Republic to provide port security at an estimated value of $500 million. Menendez spoke to State Department officials about the contract and at a hearing last year, urged State and Commerce Department officials to press the Dominican government to revive that contract.
While some Melgen investments have paid off handsomely, others have not and have prompted litigation by Melgen to try to recover his losses.
• In an ongoing 2011 federal suit, Melgen, his wife and the Melgen-controlled SFM Holdings say they lost more than $32 million on investments in CitiGroup stock after relying on what they called false and misleading public disclosures from the company between 2007 and 2009.
• In litigation that has bounced between state and federal courts since 2005, Melgen and SFM say they lost $5 million through the Palm Beach-based KL Group Ponzi scheme and another $15 million in a Banc of America Securities account that was managed by a KL principal. The KL Group’s three principals pleaded guilty to fraud charges and were sent to prison after bilking investors out of an estimated $200 million.
A federal judge last month barred Melgen from pursuing a claim against Banc of America Securities, essentially agreeing with the defendant’s argument that it served only a ministerial role and did not have a fiduciary duty to Melgen. That decision is being appealed.
Melgen has also tried to recover the $15 million by suing Palm Beacher Jerome Fisher, the founder of Nine West Shoes, whom Melgen accuses of inducing him to invest with the KL principal. Fisher denies Melgen’s claim. A federal judge dismissed the suit against Fisher in 2010, but an appeals court vacated the order and sent the case back to state court last year.
• A suit filed last year says the Melgens lost more than $10 million by investing in Bank of America Corp. stock in 2008 after relying on “false and misleading reports and statements” from the company and its president. The Bank of America Corp. suit is separate from Melgen’s complaint against Banc of America Securities.
• In another suit filed in 2012, Melgen and his wife say businessman Michael Levy and Open Sports Network, an online fantasy sports company, made “material misrepresentations and omissions of material facts” that caused the Melgens to lose $5.9 million after investing in the failed venture. Levy says Melgen knew the risks involved and continued investing and participating in decision-making after becoming aware of the alleged problems with the business.
Lawrence Duffy, another attorney for Melgen, declined to comment on any past or ongoing litigation.
Palm Beach Post staff researcher Niels Heimeriks and The Associated Press contributed to this report.