Focus turns to Menendez with doctor guilty of Medicare fraud

A prominent Florida eye doctor accused of political corruption was convicted of Medicare fraud Friday, increasing the odds that federal prosecutors could pressure him to testify against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez.

Dr. Salomon Melgen faces 15 to 20 years in prison on 67 counts, including health care fraud, submitting false claims and falsifying records in patients’ files, unless he offers or accepts a deal before his sentencing, scheduled for July 14.

The senator denies any wrongdoing.

The doctor, 62, collected more money from Medicare than any other physician in the nation — $21 million — at the height of the fraud in 2012.

He showed no reaction when the verdict was read and was immediately taken into custody. Several of his family members burst into tears outside the courtroom.

“It’s not fair,” said his wife, Flor Melgen. “He’s a good doctor.”

Defense attorney Kirk Ogrosky said he’s considering an appeal.

“He cares very deeply about his patients and tried very hard to help them,” Ogrosky said. “He had hopes the jury would see it differently.”

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Benjamin G. Greenberg said in a statement that Melgen will “be held accountable for perpetuating a massive fraud scheme that caused millions of dollars in losses.”

The senator’s defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, said he spoke with Menendez after the verdict, “and he is saddened for his long-time friend and is thinking of his family on this difficult day.”

“As we have known for the past two years, the issues involved in Dr. Melgen’s case in South Florida had no bearing on the allegations made against the Senator, and this verdict will have no impact on him,” Lowell’s statement said.

Melgen and Menendez face trial on Sept. 6 in New Jersey on charges the doctor bribed the senator for favors, including intervention in a billing dispute with Medicare.

Prosecutors convinced jurors the doctor stole up to $105 million from the federal medical insurance program between 2008 and 2013 by performing unneeded tests and treatments on mostly elderly and disabled patients.

Melgen’s attorneys argued that the Dominican-born, Harvard-trained doctor was a kind and caring physician. They acknowledged that he made billing and treatment mistakes, exposing him to potential lawsuits and possibly losing his medical license. But they said they were unintentional, and therefore not a crime.

Prosecutors countered that anybody can make an occasional mistake, but Melgen’s actions were too numerous to be honest. For example, the doctor frequently billed Medicare for tests and treatment of prosthetic eyes.

Prosecutors also pointed to tests run in seconds that were supposed to take five minutes or more. That made the tests unusable for diagnosis, but enabled him to bill Medicare up to several hundred dollars each for as many as 100 patients a day.

He pocketed millions more by splitting single-use vials of an expensive eye drug into four doses and billing the government for each one, they said.

Melgen became politically active in 1997, when he treated Florida Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, who appointed him to a state board.

He was soon hosting Democratic fundraisers at his 6,500-square-foot (605-square-meter) North Palm Beach home. That led to his friendship with Menendez, during which Melgen paid for trips he and the senator took to France and to the doctor’s home at a Dominican resort.

Menendez reimbursed Melgen $58,500 after the trips became public knowledge.

Federal prosecutors say Melgen’s gifts to Menendez were actually bribes. In return, they say, the senator obtained visas for the married Melgen’s foreign mistresses, interceded with Medicare officials investigating his practice, and pressured the State Department to intervene in a business dispute he had with the Dominican government.

“Dr. Melgen’s case focused solely on the day-to-day operations of his medical practice and the private care of his patients – specifics of which the Senator could not be aware, nor has it ever been suggested otherwise,” Lowell’s statement said.

“From the beginning, Senator Menendez has been clear that he has always acted in accordance with the law and in his appropriate legislative oversight role as a member of Congress. When all of the facts are heard, he is fully confident that a jury will agree and he will be vindicated.”

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Jada Page’s gravesite fitted with headstone in honor of 8-year-old killed in shooting

An 8-year-old girl who was shot last year in front of her grandmother’s home was remembered Friday by her loved ones as her gravesite was finally fitted with a headstone.

“I come out here and they put the headstone and I’m like, ‘OK, this is it,'” Jada Page’s mother, Domonique Brown, said.

It’s been 10 months since Jada was killed in a drive-by shooting.

“It’s just been like a rough, emotional roller coaster,” Brown said.

The pain is still very real and very raw for Jada’s mother as she visits her daughter’s gravesite.

“I kind of feel like I’m reliving the funeral all over again,” Brown said.

Jada was standing outside her grandmother’s home in northwest Miami-Dade County last August when a car pulled up and someone started shooting.

Jada was fatally shot in the head and her father was injured in the shooting.

The shooter has never been found.

“I just beg the community to just be in our shoes for just one minute. If you know something, just say something,” Jada’s grandmother, Lisa Brown, said.

While family and friends know solving this case won’t bring her back, they said it would help them move forward.

“They want justice. They still want justice,” family friend Tangela Sears said.

Family members said it took so long to get the headstone because they got it customized with six photos of the little girl.

“She loved to dance, she loved to have fun, and everything that she did in life, it represents her on that headstone,” Sears said.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. 

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Hollywood man accused of killing wife with metal pipe denied bond

A Hollywood man who is accused of beating his wife to death with a metal pipe appeared Friday in court, where he was denied bond.

Claude Sejour, 48, was arrested Wednesday night on a premeditated murder charge.

Police said he beat his wife, Marie Carmel Joseph, with a pipe wrench while the couple’s four children were inside their home.

According to an arrest report, Sejour became enraged after he learned that his wife was pregnant with another man’s child.

They got into an argument and Sejour told police that Joseph grabbed a knife and lunged at him, the report said.

He said he then took the pipe wrench and struck her with it.

When officers arrived, Sejour told them, “I did it. I finished her and called the police,” the report said.

The couple’s 17-year-old daughter tried to revive her mother as she laid lifeless in a bedroom. Police said Joseph had severe trauma to her face and head.

Neighbors were stunned by the news, saying they’d never even heard the couple argue. 

“I’m shocked that he would do something like that to his wife,” one neighbor, Henry Oquendo, said.

The couple’s children were handed over to relatives. A shelter hearing has been scheduled for Friday afternoon.

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$23,000 reward offered after cat found with arrow in head

A $23,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the person who shot an arrow from a crossbow through a beloved cat, leading to the feline’s death.

According to the Facebook page “Justice for Strushie,” the former owner of the Franklin Hotel is offering a $20,000 reward, in addition to a $3,000 offered from local animal organizations.

Eleonora Todaro said she has been feeding and caring for the stray cat for years.

“He doesn’t deserve to be a free person. He doesn’t deserve it. He has to be punished,” Todaro said about the person who killed the cat. “I don’t know if he did it to hurt me or to hurt the cat. I hope to hurt me, because there’s no reason to hurt the cat.”

Strushie was described as a “local Miami Beach fixture,” the page’s creator wrote.

The cat was found Wednesday morning under a dumpster with an arrow lodged through his head.

Veterinarian Rachel Johnson said Strushie was brought to Alton Road Animal Hospital, but the cat’s injuries were so severe, he had to be euthanized.

“We gave him pain medication, intravenously, right away, but again, by the time he arrived here, he was pretty unresponsive,” Johnson said.

X-rays showed how the arrow penetrated Strushie’s mouth and skull.

Johnson voiced concern that whoever harmed Strushie could be a threat to the community.

“We are trying to involve authorities because we’re concerned about dangers to people,” Johnson said. “You know, people who are willing to do these kinds of things probably are dangerous, not only to the animals for suffering, but also to people.”

Anyone with information about Strushie’s killing is asked to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. 

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$23,000 reward offered after cat found with arrow in head

A $23,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the person who shot an arrow from a crossbow through a beloved cat, leading to its death.

According to the Facebook page “Justice for Strushie,” the former owner of the Franklin Hotel is offering a $20,000 reward, in addition to $3,000 offered from local animal organizations.

Strushie was once cared for by the former hotel owner and was described as a “local Miami Beach fixture,” the page’s creator wrote.

The cat was found Wednesday morning under a dumpster with an arrow lodged through its head.

Veterinarian Rachel Johnson said Strushie was brought to Alton Road Animal Hospital, but the cat’s injuries were so severe, it had to be euthanized.

“We gave him pain medication, intravenously, right away, but again, by the time he arrived here, he was pretty unresponsive,” Johnson said.

X-rays showed how the arrow penetrated Strushie’s mouth and skull.

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Doctor Johnson voiced concern that whoever harmed Strushie could be a threat to the community.

 “We are trying to involve authorities because we’re concerned about dangers to people. You know, people that are willing to do these kinds of things probably are dangerous, not only to the animals for suffering, but also to people,” Johnson said.

Anyone with information about Strushie’s killing is asked to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. 

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Vigil held for teen shot, killed by brother in Florida City

Friends and family gathered Thursday night for a candlelight vigil in Florida City to remember Tedra King, 13. She was known as Rosie to those close to her.

King was shot on Tuesday by her brother, who is being charged with aggravated manslaughter.

“My daughter was everything. That’s my first child,” said Tedrick King, the girl’s father.

King’s mother was inconsolable. Her friends remembered her as a happy girl who always had a smile on her face.

“She was a lovely girl – 13. It wasn’t meant for Rosie,” said Homestead Middle School classmate Deericka Anderson. 

Police said Martaevious Santiago, 17, pointed a loaded handgun at his sister on Tuesday night after celebrating his birthday. He shot her in the back of the head. King later died.

Santiago told police it was an accident.

In family court on Thursday afternoon,  the family’s other siblings were ordered to stay with other family members.

“I know from the bottom of my heart that he loved his sister,” King’s father said. “As far as him being  charged with her death – I don’t agree with it. He’s been punished enough.”

 

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