Courts

Melgen lawsuit a glimpse at intersection of business, love life

 

In a lawsuit filed after an affair broke up, Dr. Salomon Melgen wanted a woman he had a relationship with to return close to a million dollars. But she said he had given her the money so she could “live like royalty.”

asherman@miamiherald.com

A politically connected South Florida eye surgeon under investigation by the FBI filed a lawsuit against his former lover in a case centered on a dispute about whether he gave her close to a million dollars for a joint business venture or, as she testified, because “he wanted me to live like royalty.”

In late January, federal agents raided the offices of West Palm Beach eye surgeon Salomon Melgen in an investigation about Medicare billing. The FBI is separately examining his relationship with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez a New Jersey Democrat, and the trips they took on Melgen’s private plane to the Dominican Republic. Through his lawyers, Melgen has denied wrongdoing.

In 2000, after his love affair with Yudehiris Dorrejo ended, Melgen filed a lawsuit on behalf of his company, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, against Dorrejo in an attempt to get his money back. A Palm Beach judge dismissed the case two years later, citing jurisdictional issues in the dispute that involved no written contract.

An attorney for Melgen, Alan Reider, told The Miami Herald in an email: “The legal dispute with Ms. Dorrejo concluded over a decade ago. Dr. Melgen believed at the time and continues to believe that he had a valid legal claim. Beyond that, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

Depositions of Melgen and Dorrejo taken in 2001 read like a trashy romantic tale gone bad, with a business twist. It’a story laced with bizarre allegations from death threats to consultations with witch doctors.

The depositions show the wealthy Melgen lavishing his girlfriend with a Mercedes-Benz , private airplane flights and a cash-stuffed bank account. Melgen testified that he gave her money to launch a clothing store together, though she testified they never had a business relationship.

Melgen said that he first met Dorrejo in 1998 through a friend in Santo Domingo, the city he’s originally from. Melgen told her that he was single, but when she found out he was married they broke up, she testified. She would have been about 28 at the time. He was in his mid 40s.

Later that year in October, she said Melgen sent for her to meet him at a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in West Palm Beach “to propose the conditions for our romantic relationship,” she testified.

Melgen proposed that they get back together and said he was divorced. “He showed me divorce papers, which were falsified, I later found out,” she said.

Melgen then set up a bank account for her for whatever she needed. “He wanted me to live like royalty, that I would have no problems of any kind,” she testified

At the time, she worked for a store in the Dominican Republic called Vestimenta that she had formed with her mother in 1996. In 1999, Vestimenta entered into a franchise or distribution agreement with the clothing store Vertigo, according to Dorrejo’s testimony. At the time of the deposition, the store operated under the Vertigo name at the Diamond Mall in Santo Domingo.

Melgen testified that he had pitched the business idea one day when they were “in bed just talking” at the Ritz-Carlton.

“And I said why don’t you ask for the franchise of Vertigo and we go into a joint venture....” he said. He had hoped to establish an absolute right to Vertigo in the Dominican Republic, he said.

He testified that he told Dorrejo he would set up a bank account and supply her with a credit card for traveling expenses to New York to buy merchandise.

During his deposition, Melgen said there were transfers and credit cards “close to $900,000.”

“There was a degree of trust here, and that I thought she was going to commit on her part and, obviously, she didn’t,” he said. Melgen testified that at some point he tried to get their agreement in writing, but she refused.

Between October 1998 and July 2000, the sum of $641,217.32 was deposited into the account, Melgen’s attorney said during the deposition. That included $95,000 Melgen gave to Dorrejo in October 1998 to purchase commercial space in Santo Domingo. Dorrejo testified that the money was a birthday gift.

Melgen said he tried to establish a business relationship with a man from Vertigo by directing Dorrejo to invite him to Casa de Campo, the Dominican resort where he owns a home.

Melgen testified that Dorrejo moved into an apartment he bought in Santo Domingo around 1999.

During their romance, he said, he went to the Dominican Republic about every six weeks for three or four days at a time. They would stay at a hotel.

When asked why they didn’t stay in her apartment, Melgen said, “Well, she — since I was — since I am a married man, I was a married man then, she was very concerned that she didn’t want [me] to be seen” entering her apartment. “Later on I find out that she had a lover there and that was the reason.”

Sometimes they took trips, once staying on a yacht in the Bahamas. When in Palm Beach, they would stay together in hotels.

Melgen said he gave Dorrejo money to buy a Mercedes Benz . She used his money for shopping sprees at high-end South Florida shops, once spending $1,059 on a pair of Fendi pants in Bal Harbour.

Their relationship soured in 2000. Melgen said that he had been requesting information regarding his investment and Dorrejo delayed responding.

“And basically one day I call and she had a lover in the apartment who answered the phone,” he said. The lover, who was involved in setting up the Vertigo deal, threatened to kill Melgen and offered to pay him for his investment in Vertigo, Melgen testified. Melgen then asked Dorrejo to move out.

She testified that the relationship ended three months after that telephone call, and said that Melgen harassed her. Melgen testified that Dorrejo had falsely accused him of harassment and death threats.

Dorrejo testified that Melgen “would make calls to witch doctors… he believed in all this esoteric stuff, and cards and stuff, and he loved to call up people and have them say these strange things.”

Melgen said his wife, Flor, didn’t know about his affair when it first started but after she heard rumors, she confronted him and he told her about it.

And then in 2001, Dorrejo called Melgen’s wife.

“Miss Dorrejo called my house and spoke with her at very length with a lot of details,” Melgen testified. Later in the deposition he said: “My wife told her, are you a prostitute that you need to be paid for your time.”

When asked if he was in love with Dorrejo, Melgen said “Yes, I was.” But he added that he was not upset that the relationship ended.

“Because at the time — I mean I was upset because obviously, but I thought at the time it was — when I find out that she was carrying out a relationship for such a long time and being with me at the same time, I thought that she was very dishonest.”

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