In a surprising move, the sentencing hearing for Dr. Salmon Melgen on 67 counts of Medicare fraud was postponed by a federal judge in Florida on Thursday until after his trial on public corruption charges, where he is a co-defendant with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
Jury selection in the public corruption trial is set to begin in a New Jersey federal courtroom on August 22, with the trial date set for September 6.
Melgen faces up to 30 years in prison on his Medicare fraud convictions.
The sudden postponement is “raising speculation that the disgraced Palm Beach County retinal specialist may be cooperating with federal prosecutors in a New Jersey corruption case against his longtime friend, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez,” the Palm Beach Post reported:
Melgen was scheduled to be sentenced today on 67 charges of health care fraud, but U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra agreed on Thursday to delay the hearing until after the 63-year-old ophthalmologist and Menendez, a powerful New Jersey Democrat, are tried in September on charges of operating what prosecutors describe as a mutually beneficial bribery scheme.
While Marra earlier this month rejected Melgen’s request for a delay of the sentencing hearing, he approved it Thursday without comment and without setting a future date.
In a motion filed after the delay was granted, Melgen’s attorneys said it was due to scheduling problems. And, they said, federal prosecutors signed off on it.
Melgen was found guilty on the 67 felony counts of Medicare fraud by a federal jury in Florida in April.
“The public corruption charges brought against Menendez and Melgen by the Department of Justice allege that Menendez engaged in official acts to directly aid Melgen in his efforts to receive payments for the same sort of illegal billing practices for which he was convicted,” as Breitbart News reported earlier this week:
In return for his personal lobbying efforts on behalf of Melgen, the federal government alleges Menendez received $58,000 in free travel to the Dominican Republic and Florida (for which Menendez subsequently reimbursed Melgen) and nearly $1 million in direct and indirect campaign contributions to his re-election campaign.
Attorneys and political consultants who have been watching the Melgen trial and sentencing think there may be more than just a scheduling issue involved in the sentencing delay.
“I think it would be the first thing you’d think of — ‘Oh, he must be cooperating with the prosecution’ . . . I would imagine that everybody would think that,” West Palm Beach, Florida defense attorney Richard Lubin told the Post.
“We kind of see that (the delay) as evidence he may cooperating,” an anonymous Democratic consultant told the Post.
West Palm Beach attorney Val Rodriquez had a similar reaction to the news of the delay in sentencing.
“If you cooperate, your sentencing goes much smoother,” he told the Post.
Melgen has been in prison since his conviction at the end of April, and, according to his attorneys, his condition is not good.
“Dr. Melgen has had gastric bypass surgery, and thus requires careful monitoring of his nutrition . . . He also suffers from severe depression and has had issues with chemical dependency,” his attorneys wrote in a document submitted to the court.
“He will never again be able to practice medicine. He will never again achieve ‘professional credibility,’ . . . He will never again be able to support his wife, children and grandchild. … There is no possibility that Dr. Melgen could reoffend. The nature of his offense required him to run a medical practice. He will never be able to do that again,” his attorneys argued in that submission.
Facing a 30-year sentence on his Medicare fraud convictions, the 63-year-old Melgen has reason to be cooperative with the Department of Justice as it presents its case against Sen. Menendez next month.