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Feds raid eye doctor’s West Palm Beach office for second time; doc’s lawyer calls it ‘retaliation’

By George Bennett - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer



For the second time this year, federal agents on Tuesday raided the office of a prominent eye doctor and Democratic donor who has been locked in a four-year dispute with the government over millions of dollars in Medicare payments.

About 15 to 20 agents from the FBI and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services arrived with a search warrant at the office of Dr. Salomon Melgen around 9 a.m. Tuesday. They left the building in the 2500 block of Metro Centre Boulevard about three hours later after loading several boxes of documents into a van.

Melgen’s attorney accused the government of seeking “retaliation” against his client because Melgen filed a federal lawsuit in August challenging HHS’ determination that Melgen had been overpaid $9 million by Medicare for his use of a macular degeneration drug called Lucentis.

Melgen’s office was also the target of a federal raid in January.

Melgen, a North Palm Beach resident, has not been charged with any crime.

“Unfortunately, today’s actions by the FBI are yet another in a series of inappropriate, overreaching steps taken by the government in their campaign against Dr. Melgen, his medical practice and his reputation,” said attorney Matthew I. Menchel.

An FBI spokesman confirmed “law enforcement activity” at the office but declined further comment “as this is part of an ongoing investigation.”

Melgen and HHS have been at odds since 2009 over Medicare payments Melgen received for Lucentis treatments. Melgen administers three or four doses from each vial of Lucentis; a June administrative ruling by HHS said that “each vial should only be used for the treatment of a single eye.”

According to Melgen’s lawsuit, he has never tried to conceal his “multidosing” but has openly discussed it and made presentations to federal officials about it. In court pleadings, his attorneys contend the policy is not prohibited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and was upheld in a 1981 federal court decision and other rulings.

The dispute led New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, a longtime Melgen friend and recipient of Melgen campaign money, to speak to federal health officials in 2009 and 2012 about Medicare billing practices. Menendez told the Associated Press in February that while he spoke to federal officials, he did not try to improperly intervene.

“The bottom line is, we raised concerns with CMS over policy and over ambiguities that are difficult for medical providers to understand and to seek a clarification of that and to make sure, in doing so, providers would understand how to attain themselves,” Menendez said at the time.

The Washington Post reported in March that a Miami grand jury was investigating Menendez for his role in advocating for Melgen’s business interests. Menendez has denied any wrongdoing.

In addition to questioning health officials about Medicare payments, Menendez has spoken to State Department officials about a Dominican port security contract held by a company in which Melgen also has an ownership stake. Menendez also was a key sponsor of a natural gas bill that could have aided a Melgen investment in a Florida company that markets a conversion system for natural gas truck engines.

Menendez has received more than $700,000 in direct and indirect campaign help from Melgen and has made personal trips to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s private plane. Menendez also was compelled to reimburse $58,000 for two flights to the Dominican Republic aboard Melgen’s private jet for personal trips in 2010 that he previously had failed to report, prompting scrutiny by the Senate Ethics Committee.

Melgen, 59, was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and lives in the gated Captain’s Landing community near North Palm Beach. He has offices in West Palm Beach, Wellington, Port St. Lucie and west of Delray Beach.

Melgen’s dispute with HHS escalated this year after the June administrative ruling that Medicare had overpaid Melgen for Lucentis treatments. Less than three weeks after Melgen filed his August lawsuit contesting the ruling, HHS ordered a suspension of all Medicare payments to Melgen’s practice. Melgen appealed the suspension administratively and last week filed a motion seeking an injunction to order HHS to lift the suspension until the lawsuit is resolved.


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