A key defense witness in Dr. Salomon Melgen’s Medicare fraud trial was “stunned by [the] gap between Melgen, him, in number of tests ordered,” the Palm Beach Post reported of Dr. Dana Deupree’s testimony in a federal courtroom in Florida on Tuesday.
Melgen was indicted on 76 charges of Medicare fraud on April 15, 2015, and “prosecutors said [Melgen] attempted to bilk the health care program out of as much as $190 million,” the Associated Press reported at the time.
Two weeks before that, on April 1, 2015, Melgen and his friend and political contribution beneficiary, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), were indicted on charges of public corruption related to the Medicare fraud charges.
Melgen’s trail on Medicare fraud in Florida is expected to go to the jury before the end of the month. Both men will stand trial on the public corruption charges this fall in a New Jersey federal courtroom.
“A Clearwater retinal specialist who is defending Dr. Salomon Melgen performed a miniscule number of tests and procedures on his own patients compared to the tens of thousands of tests ordered by the Palm Beach County ophthamologist who is accused of bilking Medicare out of as much as $105 million,” the Post reported:
While Dr. Dana Deupree on Tuesday continued to insist that Melgen’s methods were justified, he was surprised to learn how rarely he had ordered similar tests for his own Medicare patients.
For instance, while both treated about 2,300 patients from 2008 to 2013, Melgen billed Medicare 52,673 times for a particular test. By comparison, federal prosecutors said, records showed that during the same six years Deupree submitted 1,579 claims to the federal insurer for the same test.
The number of bills each submitted to Medicare for a scan to determine if elderly patients suffered from wet macular degeneration was even more lopsided. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Stefin said the federal agency received 52,111 claims from Melgen compared to the 43 it received from Deupree.
“I thought it would be more,” Deupree said in court.
“Deupree’s testimony comes as the six-week-long trial against Melgen on 76 charges of health care fraud is winding down. He is to be the last witness called by Melgen’s defense team. The case is expected to go to the jury next week,” the Post reported.
“Under friendly questioning on Monday by Melgen’s attorney, Matthew Menchel, Deupree said that Melgen’s combination treatment of patients may have been unconventional but is slowly gaining acceptance. Like Melgen, he said he has begun using both lasers and drugs in hopes of saving eyes ravaged by wet macular degeneration,” according to the Post.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Stefin severely damaged the testimony of Melgen’s star defense witness when it was his turn to ask questions.
“Under questioning by Stefin, [Deupree] acknowledged that the machine he uses to zap ailing eyes with low intensity lasers is different than the one Melgen was using,” the Post reported:
Deupree met Melgen in the mid-1980s in Boston, where both trained under famed retinal specialist Charles Schepens, and said he has served as a consultant for Melgen’s various legal teams for about four years.
He was hired to help Melgen in his unsuccessful fight against the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services over Melgen’s practice of using one vial of the drug Lucentis to treat as many as four patients, a practice known as multi-dosing. Then, he said, he was hired by Melgen’s criminal defense team. So far, he said, he has been paid about $135,000.
“The defense team representing Dr. Salomon Melgen in his Medicare fraud trial is trying to persuade a federal jury in Florida their client’s practice of overbilling the Department of Health and Human Services by a factor of three for his administration of the drug Lucentis was simply part of his “innovative efforts to help patients,” Breitbart News reported on Monday.
The previous week, FBI intelligence analyst Jennifer Minton testified that “Melgen raked in millions more from Medicare for various tests and procedures than any other eye specialist in the nation,” the Post reported.
Federal prosecutors started their case against Melgen on a strong note when the trial began in early April.
“Dr. Julia Haller, one of the top ophthalmologists in the country, testified at the Medicare fraud trial of Dr. Salomon Melgen in a Florida federal court last week that his medical practices were ‘abusive.’ In subsequent testimony, she said they were ‘unconscionable’ and ‘horrifying,’” Breitbart News reported this month.
In the event Melgen is convicted on Medicare fraud charges, it will be seen as an early indicator of how the public corruption trial against Melgen and Sen. Menendez may go in the fall.
Menendez is up for re-election in November 2018 and has given every sign he intends to run to keep his seat in the United States Senate.