Florida

Eye doctor is sentenced in $73 million Medicare fraud

Dr. Salomon Melgen, center, leaves the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Courthouse in Newark with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after Menendez’s indictment in 2015 on corruption charges related to Melgen.
Dr. Salomon Melgen, center, leaves the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Courthouse in Newark with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after Menendez’s indictment in 2015 on corruption charges related to Melgen. AP

Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen learned Thursday that $73 million of attempted Medicare fraud equals 17 years in federal prison.

Melgen’s sentence after a federal jury in West Palm Beach found him guilty of 67 counts of healthcare fraud and also includes a preliminary order of restitution of $42,561,205 and three years of supervised release after prison.

This comes down three months after a hung jury ended the New Jersey federal court trial of Melgen and close pal Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, on bribery and fraud charges.

Though Melgen gave to politicians on both sides of the aisle, Melgen hosted Democratic fundraisers at his 6,536-square-foot North Palm Beach home. Federal campaign records say he contributed around $32,000 to Menendez’s campaigns. Also, Menendez flew on Melgen’s private plane at least once to the Melgen’s native Dominican Republic and went to France on Melgen’s dime.

Menendez reimbursed Melgen $58,500 after the trips became public knowledge.

Melgen’s lucrative practice in St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties flourished on a foundation formed by piles of Medicare money from January 2008 through December 2013. Treating age related macular degeneration, which the National Eye Institute calls the leading cause of vision loss for people 50 or over, made the 63-year-old doctor one of the largest Medicare billers in the nation.

But, as Judge Kenneth Marra wrote in a sentencing order, Melgen’s practice “was conducted in a manner where he routinely, and as a matter of standard practice, diagnosed patients with medical conditions they did not have in order to allow him to bill for diagnostic procedures and medical services that were not medically necessary or justified.

“Specifically, the Court finds that Defendant routinely falsely diagnosed patients with either wet or dry Age Related Macular Degeneration. This mis-diagnosis allowed Defendant routinely and as a matter of standard practice to subject his patients to medically unjustified procedures and treatment, and then fraudulently bill for those procedures.”

Marra wrote that, based on evidence, about 77 percent of Melgen’s wet macular degeneration and 61.8 percent of his dry macular degeneration diagnoses were unsupported by medical records.

“Thus, the total amount fraudulently billed by Defendant to Medicare was $73,417,620,” Marra wrote.

This report includes information from the Associated Press.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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