Nation

Florida eye doctor gets 17 years for Medicare fraud

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A prominent Florida eye doctor once accused of bribing Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey received a 17-year sentence Thursday for stealing $73 million from Medicare by persuading elderly patients to undergo excruciating tests and treatments they didn’t need for diseases they didn’t have.

Dr. Salomon Melgen was convicted of 67 crimes including health care fraud, submitting false claims, and falsifying records in patients’ files.

Prosecutors showed that between 2008 and 2013, he became the nation’s highest-paid Medicare doctor, building his practice by giving elderly patients unnecessary eye injections and laser blasts on their retinas that some compared to torture.

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Melgen, 63, was ordered to pay $42.6 million in restitution to Medicare.

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Prosecutors argued he stole $136 million but his attorneys insisted the proven total was $64,000. US District Judge Kenneth A. Marra said the evidence shows the theft was at least $73 million.

Marra could have given the Harvard-trained, Dominican-born physician a life sentence. Prosecutors had been seeking 30 years. Defense attorneys sought less than 10.

Melgen has been in custody since his April 28 conviction.

Separately, in November a federal jury in New Jersey hung after a 2½-month trial at which prosecutors tried to prove Melgen’s gifts to Menendez were actually bribes.

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In return, they said, Menendez interceded with Medicare officials investigating his practice, obtained visas for Melgen’s foreign mistresses, and pressured the State Department to intervene in a business dispute he had with the Dominican government.

After a judge threw out some of the charges, prosecutors decided on Jan. 31 not to retry the bribery case.

associated press