WASHINGTON, D.C.—Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pushed the Obama White House to help Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in getting the federal government to back off a Medicare fraud criminal scheme involving a major Menendez supporter, efforts for which Menendez will stand trial in federal court next week on public corruption charges.
Dr. Salomon Melgen is a wealthy ophthalmologist in Florida who is also a backer of Menendez. A division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during the Obama administration investigated Melgen for Medicare fraud. Menendez unsuccessfully tried to get HHS to drop the investigation. Melgen was found to have overcharged Medicare on a massive scale, and was ordered to repay $8.9 million to the U.S. government.
In 2012, while the HHS investigation was ongoing, it became public that Menendez had received free gifts from Melgen that were not reported on Menendez’s financial disclosure forms, as required both by federal law and by Senate rules.
Specifically, prosecutors later discovered, Menendez had received trips on Melgen’s private jet. “Once exposed, on January 4, 2013, Menendez wrote a $58,500 check to cover two roundtrip flights, more than two years after Menendez took them in 2010,” the Trump-Sessions Justice Department explained in a trial brief filed on August 30 in federal court.
The New Jersey senator’s office issued a statement, saying that he had traveled on Melgen’s plane “on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately.”
“That was a lie,” federal prosecutors declare in their trial brief to Judge William Walls, who is presiding over Menendez’s case.
Revealing previously unknown facts, the Justice Department continued, “The truth is that Menendez and his personal guests had enjoyed more than a dozen flights on Melgen’s private jet, dating back at least as far as 2006—not a single one of which Menendez had paid for or reported on his annual financial disclosure forms.”
Failing to disclose such gifts violates the Ethics in Government Act.
For years, Menendez’s lawyers attempted to derail the prosecution under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. This included claiming legislative immunity from criminal prosecution under the U.S. Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, a claim rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and which the Supreme Court refused to review.
Having run out of options, Menendez will stand trial in federal court, beginning September 6.
Although news outlets such as Breitbart News had reported on Reid’s role, this week’s trial brief filing is the first time that the Justice Department highlighted to the court the fact that the former Democratic majority leader in the Senate worked in 2011 to “amplify the pressure” on HHS to reverse course. The White House declined Reid’s urging to get involved.
The Menendez prosecution is the first major public-corruption case since McDonnell v. U.S., where the Supreme Court clarified the scope of the federal law at issue. The federal government must prove that Menendez as a public official performed an official act, or pressured another public official to perform an official act (in this case, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius), in exchange for something of value.
The case is U.S. v. Menendez, No. 2:15-cr-155 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.