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South Florida Doctor Detained after Charged with Medicare Fraud

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On Thursday, a wealthy South Florida eye doctor was been detained before trial by order of a federal magistrate judge. Doctor Salomon Melgen- already charged in a public corruption case with his close friend, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez- remained locked up on a newly filed Medicare fraud indictment after prosecutors argued he was at flight risk to his native Dominican Republic. Melgen is a longtime ophthalmologist who has owned and operated Vitreo-Retinal Consultants of the Palm Beaches since 1990. His high-volume business, with four offices in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties, has provided clinical and surgical services to as many as 100 patients in a single day, according to the indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bell told Magistrate Judge James Hopkins that Melgen’s “ties to the Dominican Republic are very strong.” She noted that Melgen has a boat at his North Palm Beach waterfront home, a lot of cash, citizenship in the Dominican Republic, a resort villa and other assets there and connections to officials in that country. “He could flee to the Dominican Republic or to another country for that matter,” said Bell, adding that the DR has an extradition agreement with the United States but it doesn’t include a provision for a possible fugitive accused of healthcare fraud.

The judge agreed to the detention, reserving the right to revisit his bond request in the future. On Thursday, Melgen also entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment in federal court in West Palm Beach. Melgen, 61, was arrested late Tuesday at his medical office in West Palm Beach on charges involving $190 million in Medicare claims. According to the indictment, Melgen collected more than $105 million in reimbursements based on substantial “fraudulent” claims to the taxpayer-funded program for eye injections and other treatments between 2008 and 2013. The indictment listed 30 patients treated by Melgen for wet macular degeneration, a retinal disease that causes blindness, and for other ailments. Prosecutors say he fabricated diagnoses to generate costly treatments such as eye injections that were “unnecessary” — costing the taxpayer-funded Medicare program millions of dollars. Melgen is recognized as one of Medicare’s top-billing physicians. His attorneys denied the allegations, saying the procedures were necessary and benefited his patients. “We have reviewed the indictment and can say we are convinced of the doctor’s innocence,” they told the Miami Herald.

Melgen is charged in the new 76-count indictment with healthcare fraud, filing false claims and making false statements. He was arrested by the Health and Human Services and FBI agents following a two-year investigation.