Doctor tied to senator indicted for multi-million-doll healthcare fraud

Doctor tied to senator indicted for multi-million-doll healthcare fraud

WASHINGTON - A Florida eye doctor facing corruption charges along with US Senator Robert Menendez has been indicted for multimillion-dollar health care fraud.

Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and lead author of legislation aimed at tightening sanctions against Iran, was himself formally charged early this month for public corruption.

His indictment followed a two-year federal investigation into his ties to his friend, ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, who contributed large sums to the senator's re-election campaign.

Melgen was indicted Tuesday on 76 counts linked to a scheme to defraud the Medicare government health programme for the elderly.

Of the charges, 46 were for health care fraud, while the others were for filing false claims and making false statements.

From 2008 to 2013, Melgen billed Medicare more than US$190 million, for which he was reimbursed and paid more than $105 million, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said a "substantial portion" of the reimbursement payments were obtained through fraudulent billing, noting the scheme started as early as 2004.

Menendez, a Democratic two-term New Jersey senator, is accused of being involved in a bribery scheme in which he accepted gifts from Melgen in exchange for political favors.

The lawmaker has fiercely rejected the accusations, saying prosecutors were "dead wrong", and were confusing friendship for corruption.

Melgen contributed some $750,000 towards Menendez's 2012 re-election efforts, the indictment said.

The senator was gifted more than 20 flights, mostly on Melgen's private jets, between New Jersey, Florida and the Dominican Republic, where the Menendez -- occasionally accompanied by a guest -- was put up in Melgen's posh Caribbean resort property.

At Menendez's request, the lawmaker was also provided a three-night stay at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome hotel in France, valued at $4,934.10 and paid for by Melgen.

Prosecutors said Menendez never reported the gifts.

In return, Menendez allegedly pressured US officials in 2009 and 2012 to reverse a federal order that Melgen repay nearly $9 million in overbilling to Medicare.

Menendez is also said to have intervened to help win US visas for three of Melgen's girlfriends, and to resolve a dispute at Dominican ports that would favour Melgen and his security scanning business.

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