WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida doctor charged with corruption alongside New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez was sent back to jail for another two weeks Monday as a judge tried to ensure he couldn't flee if released on bond.
Defense attorneys for Dr. Salomon Melgen remained tangled with prosecutors over the eye surgeon's foreign holdings and how to effectively tie up his investments and real estate to minimize the chance he would run away to his native Dominican Republic or elsewhere if freed on bail. U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hopkins held off on setting a bail amount for Melgen, instead ordering the parties back before him on June 29.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Stefin said that Melgen and his family have liquid assets of about $9 million and nonliquid holdings of about $10.5 million — but that numerous assets are unaccounted for in financial statements provided by the defense and that those could total millions more.
Stefin proposed bonds totaling $18.5 million for Melgen's release, which the defense rejected as unfair.
"It would financially devastate the family now, not if he flees," said Matthew Menchel, an attorney for Melgen who spoke by phone at the hearing. "It's way beyond reasonable and onerous and punitive and would essentially destroy his family's ability to survive."
Hopkins called the government's proposal "the last resort" but said there may be other ways to satisfy worries about Melgen's wealth. Hopkins proposed shifting around assets used to guarantee personal and corporate surety bonds, having attorneys take control of real estate owned by Melgen to free up cash deposited to pay for his defense, and consolidating Dominican-held holdings into a trust that would be ceded if he flees.
"The last thing I would like is for the defendant to have substantial assets to fall back on in the Dominican Republic," Hopkins said.
Hopkins ruled last month that Melgen should be held until he stands trial in the Medicare fraud case, which is separate from the corruption charges he faces with Menendez in New Jersey. But U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra overruled him earlier this month, saying that while he agreed Melgen is a flight risk and that the evidence against him is considerable, he still should be allowed to be released.
The indictment unsealed in Florida in April came just two weeks after another one in New Jersey in which prosecutors say Menendez intervened on his friend's behalf to gain visas for Melgen's foreign girlfriends, press Dominican officials to honor a lucrative port contract for one of the doctor's businesses, and influence Medicare officials on billing disputes. In exchange, authorities say, Melgen showered the senator with flights, vacations and contributions.
Both Melgen and Menendez have pleaded not guilty in that case as well. Melgen has been jailed since April 14.
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