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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Molina Healthcare may drop Obamacare members

If President Donald Trump doesn’t continue to fund the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing reduction subsidy payments, insurer Molina Healthcare will drop their contracts. 

Dr. Mario Molina, the insurer’s chief executive officer, warned Congress in a letter that the move would result in about 650,000 to 700,000 people losing insurance coverage in 2017. The company would drop out of the Obamacare marketplace in 2018.

“We will have no choice but to send a notice of default informing the government that we are dropping our contracts for their failure to pay premiums,” Molina wrote

Over one million Americans would lose health insurance coverage, Molina sells plans in Florida, California, New Mexico, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Utah.



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Why is there a war between drivers and cyclists in Miami?

Anthony Napoliello believes there is a war in Miami between drivers and cyclists. The four-wheeled are hostile to the two-wheeled. It’s a fight to the death. 

Car dependency is a way of life in Miami. In some areas, a lack of bike infrastructure makes cyclists feel like they are swimming with sharks. But not in Virginia Key, where the sea breeze and endless shades of Biscayne Bay blue and palm trees attract those who love the outdoors. 

There are designated bike paths on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Signs with sensors warn each driver about their speed. Joggers have paths away from the road. But none of the preventive measures stopped a driver from striking Napoliello while he was riding his bicycle in the designated area. 

“I’m looking up and I see this car turning straight into me,” Napoliello said. “And I knew I was going to go down.”

Napoliello suffered a broken hip, a serious knee injury and broken fingers. He credits his choice of helmet for saving his life. There have been plenty of appalling tragedies besetting cyclists on Virginia Key. He feels lucky to have survived and wants to help raise awareness to help save lives. 

“You know it’s going to be a long battle,” Napoliello said about his recovery. 

Napoliello said he remembers the driver’s panic. She wasn’t grieving sarcastically, and she wasn’t irritated. She was genuinely apologetic. He said he empathized with her, after she showed signs of tortured regret. But he wants drivers to remember that not paying attention can end up causing another tragedy. 

Napoliello doesn’t want what happened to him to become another run-of-the-mill bike vs. car incident on Miami’s roads. He wants authorities and the public to recognize the simmering tension of the cyclist-driver relationship and find ways to change it. 


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Possible South Miami explosion causes power outages, traffic issues

A possible explosion was reported in South Miami on Friday, causing power outages and traffic tie-ups.

Sky 10 was overhead as police shut down 57th Avenue between South Dixie Highway and Sunset Drive.

An open manhole with smoke pouring out was seen from above. The manhole is across from The Shops of Sunset Place mall.

Florida Power & Light crews said about 50 customers are without power and street lights are not working in the area. 

It’s not known as of yet what caused the possible initial explosion.


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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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The two biggest ways Trump’s tax plan would benefit his family

The one-page outline of President Trump’s tax plan is sparse on details, but it does show he favors tax cuts that help business owners, and greatly benefit the wealthiest among them.

Two tax cuts in particular could be especially sweet for Trump himself and his children.

The first is his call to slash the business tax rate on pass-through entities to 15 percent from 39.6 percent.

Pass-throughs are businesses set up as sole proprietorships, S corporations and partnerships (e.g., LLCs, LLPs, etc.). They include everything from the corner grocery store and other Main Street businesses, to big accounting firms, medical practices and private investment partnerships like hedge funds.

They also happen to include most every entity in the Trump family’s vast financial portfolio — from golf clubs to hotels to real estate developments to Trump-branded products and ventures.

Pass-throughs are not taxed under the corporate code. Instead, their profits flow through to the owners, partners and shareholders, who then report and pay tax on them through their individual tax returns.

If Trump were ever to release his own federal returns from the past few years, we might be able to say exactly how his tax plan would benefit — or hurt — him directly. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated categorically on Wednesday that the president has “no intention” of releasing them. He later went on to tell ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Trump’s tax plan isn’t about Trump’s returns, it’s about the American public’s returns.

Actually it’s about both.

How the Trump empire would benefit

Even without the specifics from Trump’s returns, it’s reasonable to assume that however much tax he pays at the top rate on his business income would fall by nearly two-thirds. For every $1 million in taxable income, he’d pay $150,000 under his own plan instead of $396,000 today.

Based on information from the top two pages of his 2005 returns, Steven Rosenthal, senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, estimates that Trump might have saved $27 million if his business income at the time had been taxed at 15 percent.

Of course, any savings Trump would enjoy under his own proposals could be undercut, depending on what tax breaks the administration would support curtailing.

We know the Trump plan would kill itemized deductions except for mortgage interest and charitable contributions. But since deductible mortgage interest is limited and Trump’s charitable giving was shown to be underwhelming by Washington Post reporter and CNN contributor David Fahrenthold, those may not be big breaks for him.

What might be are his state and local taxes, which Rosenthal suspects made up a big chunk of Trump’s $17 million of itemized deductions in 2005. That’s because Trump was a resident of New York City, one of the highest taxed places in the country.

Beyond that, the Trump plan doesn’t detail what other breaks he’d support curbing. It simply says Trump wants to “eliminate targeted tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthy” and “eliminate tax breaks for special interests.”

Again, without Trump’s tax returns, it’s impossible to say which breaks in those broad categories he relies on to reduce his taxable business income. Will he, for instance, propose eliminating tax breaks that benefit real estate investors and developers? Or will he support getting rid of breaks that might benefit him in his marketing and licensing deals?

A posthumous bonus for Trump’s children

The second tax break in the president’s plan that would be especially generous for the Trump family is a repeal of the federal estate tax.

Today, only the portion of an estate over $5.49 million is subject to the estate tax, at a top rate of 40 percent.

Given that Trump’s net worth is likely in the billions, estate tax repeal would mean his family would inherit a lot tax free unless he gives it all to charity before he dies.

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