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Ophthalmologist accused of bribing US Senator

20/09/2017By Matthew Woodley
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A corruption trial involving a US Senator and his relationship with a high profile ophthalmologist – who has already been convicted of stealing millions of dollars from Medicare – is being closely watched by Washington’s political elite.

Senator for New Jersey Robert Menendez is currently on trial for corruption charges after allegedly accepting lavish gifts from his co-defendant Dr Salomon Melgen, in exchange for intervening on behalf of the ophthalmologist’s business interests with government officials.

“Menendez allegedly received lavish holidays in the Caribbean, France and Dominican Republic, multiple free flights on Melgen’s private jet, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funding.”

While Menendez has maintained his innocence throughout, prosecutors have alleged he; inappropriately advocated on Melgen’s behalf over a billing dispute he was having with Medicare; tried to get the State Department to push the Dominican Republic to uphold a contract Melgen had to provide cargo screening in the country’s ports, and; tried to stop US Customs and Border Protection from donating cargo screening equipment to the Dominican Republic, because of that same port contract Melgen had.

It is also alleged that Menendez personally intervened to secure visas for three of Melgen’s foreign girlfriends. In return, Menendez allegedly received lavish holidays in the Caribbean, France and Dominican Republic, multiple free flights on Melgen’s private jet, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funding.

Robert Menendez, senior United States senator for New Jersey
Robert Menendez, senior United States senator for New Jersey

The trial is receiving nationwide attention in the US, as should Menendez be found guilty it could have large ramifications on the balance of power in the Senate. A guilty verdict would likely see Democrat Menendez voted out of office by his peers, an outcome which would see Republican Governor Chris Christie select his replacement.

This could therefore impact important legislative change being pushed by the GOP, including efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which failed by just one vote earlier this year.

Further adding to the controversy is the criminal history of Melgen, who earlier this year was convicted of pocketing up to US$105 million (AU$124.5 m) in fraudulent earnings from Medicare by performing unnecessary treatments on mostly elderly and disabled patients. These treatments included billing Medicare unneeded laser surgery on patients with dry age-related macular degeneration, as well as tests and treatments performed on prosthetic eyes.

The trial is expected to conclude in October.

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