U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hopkins has denied Dr. Salomon Melgen’s request for bond in a Florida federal courtroom. The ruling keeps the Dominican born Florida ophthalmologist locked up in a Miami jail. Melgen has been behind bars in Florida since he was arrested April 14 on charges of Medicare fraud.
On April 1, Melgen and his close friend Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) were indicted on public corruption charges in a New Jersey federal court. Both Melgen and Menendez were released on bond on those separate charges one day later, on April 2.
But on Friday, as the Associated Press reported, “Hopkins sided with federal prosecutors, who argued Dr. Salomon Melgen’s profound wealth and strong international ties offer ample chance to flee to his native Dominican Republic or anywhere else in the world” should he be released.
During Friday’s hearing, former federal prosecutor Maria Dominguez, Melgen’s attorney, asked Hopkins to release her client on bond. Melgen offered “to post a sizable bond, secured by property worth millions.”
But Hopkins did not buy the argument.
“There are no combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant. I will order that he be detained as a risk of flight,” Hopkins said in the ruling, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Hopkins also noted that “an extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Dominican may not cover health-care fraud. If Melgen decides to flee to his island homeland — where he has luxury homes, bank accounts and links to top government officials — prosecutors may never be able to bring him back to stand trial,” as the Post reported.
Dominguez told the Post “she would likely appeal” Hopkins’ ruling.
During the hearing, Dominguez argued that Melgen was not a flight risk, having visited his native Dominican Republic in March knowing that both the public corruption and Medicare fraud charges were coming.
“This is not a stupid man,” the Post reports Dominguez told the court. “We can conclude that his remaining in this jurisdiction was not a calculated risk. It was a deliberate decision.”
Federal prosecutors, however, argued “that much has changed since Melgen’s indictments.”
“His business has closed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bell argued. “He can’t gross $1 million a month. That spigot is off. It’s closed. There’s no reason for him to stay in the United States.”
The seriousness of the Medicare fraud allegations apparently played a key role in Hopkins’ ruling.
“If the government allegations are true it’s a horrific crime,” Hopkins said.
“I can’t even imagine the distress it caused these patients. Then to compound the distress, to actually subject them to unnecessary testing and treatment. It’s hard to quantify how terrible the crime is as alleged,” he concluded.
Melgen’s extended incarceration appears to be taking a toll on him, as well as his family. As Breitbart News reported on Tuesday, Melgen is “a well known international jet setter who ‘suffers from attention deficit disorder and takes sleep medication.’ ”
After more than three weeks in jail, news that he could well remain behind bars until his scheduled February 22 trial date on the Medicare fraud charges hit Melgen and his family hard.
As the Post reported:
Melgen, who federal prosecutors said earned $1 million a month treating patients at clinics in West Palm Beach, Wellington, Delray Beach and Port St. Lucie, smiled weakly at his wife, son and daughter as he was led from the courtroom in shackles. His wife, Flor, collapsed against the couple’s daughter Melissa in tears.
When Melgen was arrested on the Medicare fraud charges on April 14, Bloomberg News reported “[t]he new charges could make it harder for Menendez to defend himself in the New Jersey case, said Doug Burns, a former federal prosecutor.”
Burns elaborated on the powerful friendship between the two men, as Bloomberg reported:
“It changes from Menendez being able to say this wealthy supporter of mine was in a civil Medicare dispute to he’s been charged with Medicare fraud as a crime,” Burns said.
“The government is sending a message that Menendez can’t work it both ways, and if you’re that close to the guy, it makes it much harder to claim that it’s just a civil matter.”
While the new case “definitely increases the pressure on Melgen” to cooperate, Burns said he doubts the doctor will do so.
“Melgen is not going to cooperate, no matter what, given the dynamic of their relationship,” Burns said. “Both of them are really dug into the idea that this is not corruption, it’s just a friendship.”
With the Medicare fraud trial now apparently scheduled to be held before the public corruption trial in which Menendez is also charged, and with Melgen now likely to remain in jail until the fraud trial is over, the former high flying Democratic contributor may be feeling the heat to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Facing a possible lifetime sentence on the Medicare fraud charges, and an equally lengthy sentence in the public corruption charges, Melgen may reconsider how strong those ties of friendship with Menendez are. Menendez, who is free on bond and continues to conduct his duties as a Senator in Washington, is facing only one trial.
Melgen, in contrast, faces two trials and may not see the outside of a jail cell for a very long time.