When we left off, New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez was decrying "right wing blogs" for engaging in "smears" against his good name. Accusations that the Senator took undisclosed flights on a political ally's private jet to the Dominican Republic for liaisons with prostitutes -- some of whom are alleged to have been underage -- are "absolutely false," he's insisted. Except...he's copped to the flights and has forked over a handsome sum to correct his $60,000 "mistake." And the New York Times reported that Menendez flexed his political muscles to promote a $500 million port security contract for a firm owned by his embattled mega donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen. Now we learn that federal investigators had suspected the eye doctor of rampant Medicare fraud for some time, but that his buddy in the US Senate ran interference for him on several occasions. In the wake of last month's FBI raid, Melgen's jig appears to be up -- and Menendez has some more explaining to do (via the Washington Post):
Sen. Robert Menendez raised concerns with top federal health-care officials twice in recent years about their finding that a Florida eye doctor — a close friend and major campaign donor — had overbilled the government by $8.9 million for care at his clinic, Menendez aides said Wednesday. Menendez (D-N.J.) initially contacted federal officials in 2009 about the government’s audit of Salomon Melgen, complaining to the director overseeing Medicare payments that it was unfair to penalize the doctor because the billing rules were ambiguous, the aides said. Last year, in a meeting with the acting administrator of the agency in charge of Medicare and Medicaid, Menendez again questioned whether federal auditors had been fair in their assessment of Melgen’s billing for eye injections to treat macular degeneration, the senator’s aides said. The agency had ordered Melgen to repay the $8.9 million, and at the time of both conversations, Melgen was disputing the agency’s conclusion.
Just for reference, Melgen donated $700,000 to Menendez and other Senate Democrats in 2012 alone. It gets better: Other Florida doctors have asserted that Melgen used his close relationship with Menendez to intimidate critics within his profession. Two physicians say Melgen issued threats against a fellow doctor who questioned his practices, warning that he may mysteriously find himself the target of an inconvenient federal investigation:
Doctors in south Florida said that they have been fearful of criticizing Melgen publicly, and that his Washington connections may be protecting him. In 2010, Melgen scolded eye surgeon Randy Katz for publicly criticizing the quality of his care. According to two fellow doctors, Melgen cited his Senate connections and told Katz that he could face a Medicare investigation. Katz did not respond to requests for comment. Melgen’s attorney declined to discuss his client’s conversations with Katz or allegations that his client had threatened other doctors. Soon after the encounter, according to a copy of a letter obtained by The Post, Katz wrote to Palm Beach doctors in praise of Melgen. “It has come to my attention that certain statements I made have been misunderstood as criticisms of Dr. Melgen,” Katz wrote in the open letter. “To be clear, I know Dr. Salomon Melgen to be a capable and highly-skilled vitreo-retinal surgeon. . . . If you hear any suggestion that I have said otherwise, you should disregard that suggestion as being false.”
Menendez has exhausted a large portion of his personal savings reimbursing Melgen for the previously off-the-books DR flights. In the past, he's settled debts by drawing from of a legal defense account funded generously by -- you guessed it -- Dr. Salomon Melgen:
According to the National Journal, Menenedez has previously used his legal fund, known as the Fund to Uphold the Constitution, to pay outstanding debts. In addition to the political giving, the Melgens supported a legal defense fund that Menendez created in 2011 to fend off a tea-party-backed recall effort. The state high court dismissed the recall effort, and Menendez used his legal fund, called the Fund to Uphold the Constitution, to pay his lawyers. … Salomon and Flor Melgen gave a combined $40,000 in 2011 and 2012 to the legal fund, making them its largest donors.
The Fund to Uphold the Constitution. Perfect. I wonder if Harry Reid still has the "utmost confidence" in his friend from New Jersey. Stay tuned for further "smear" updates as additional information comes to light.