POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Menendez prosecutors press port security, Medicare fraud

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Most of Tuesday’s session dealt with the port security issue. Sen. Bob Menendez is accused of trying to intervene with the state department on behalf of his friend Dr. Salomon Melgen.

Melgen invested millions in a company that had a contract to scan cargo leaving and arriving in the Dominican Republic. The contract was never enforced and Melgen’s investment was becoming worthless. Enter his friend, the senator.

Menendez met with an assistant secretary of state on the matter.

An e-mail memorializing the meeting was shown to the jurors, which stated, “The senator was displeased … and threatened to hold a hearing on the matter if we don’t resolve it by the deadline [July 1]. ”

Abbe Lowell, defense lawyer for Menendez, argued that the senator is genuinely concerned about port security.

“He wasn’t calling a hearing about this particular contract, was he? It was to be about the whole issue of port security, right?” asked Lowell of Mark Wells, a 23-year state department official.

“Yes,” said Wells.

“And New Jersey has ports?” asked Lowell.

“I’m from Oklahoma, I’m not sure,” said Wells.

Another witness, Scott Smith, a 19-year commerce department official, described a meeting with Melgen’s lawyer.

“[The lawyer] said Dr. Melgen had powerful friends,” Smith said. “It was probably the most threatening meeting I’ve ever had at commerce,” he testified.

In the final hour Tuesday, government prosecutors began presenting evidence about Medicare over-billing. Melgen is an ophthalmologist in Florida. He was convicted of Medicare fraud there this year, but that is being kept out of this trial.

Menendez is accused of going to bat for Melgen with Medicare officials. The officials said Melgen overcharged Medicare $8.9 million for eye drops. Lucentis comes in a single use vial and Melgen used one vial to treat three or four patients at a time.

“There was no loss to Medicare,” argued Melgen’s attorney, Kirk Ogrosky.

“This is Big Pharma getting a windfall…,” argued Lowell.

Judge William Walls reigned them in.

“This is a bribery trial, not a Medicare overpayment trial,” he reminded them.

The trial continues Wednesday.