Cerabino: Socking it to West Palm eye doc depends on relative justice

8:41 p.m Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 Local
Frank Cerabino

I wonder if Dean Rockmore is following the sentencing of Dr. Salomon Melgen in West Palm Beach.

Rockmore is in Florida’s Everglades Correctional Institution, paying the price for trying to shoplift a $4 pair of socks from a Walmart in DeLand.

Dr. Melgen, an ophthalmologist who was once America’s top biller of Medicare-reimbursed treatments, is awaiting sentencing in federal court in West Palm Beach for bilking taxpayers out of a lot of money over a six-year period.

How much money? Well, that’s still being sorted out.

Federal prosecutors estimate that Melgen pocketed $136 million in fraudulent government payments. The doctor’s lawyers though, are arguing that the fraud tally should be confined to the small sample of the doctor’s 2,200 patients who were used by prosecutors during Melgen’s trial earlier this year.

And that would be about $64,000 worth of stolen money.

The tallying of the fraud is important, because federal sentencing guidelines consider the scope of the fraud in arriving at a recommended sentence for U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra to consider. Prosecutors think Melgen should get a hefty prison sentence, while his defense lawyers think it’s reasonable to release Melgen with credit for the time he has already served behind bars while waiting for the sentencing.

The difference between $136 million and $64,000 is quite a bit.

But to Rockmore, even the smaller amount must seem astronomical.

That’s because Rockmore, 57, is serving life sentence over that $4 package of socks.

He put them under his shirt along with a package of T-shirts at the Walmart one day seven years ago. But a store security officer spotted Rockmore and tried to stop him as he walked out of the store.

The shirts fell to the ground, but not the socks. The security guard told Rockmore to come back inside with the stolen socks. But he refused.

“I’m not going to come with you. I’m not,” Rockmore told the security guard, according to the guard’s testimony.

So he ran away with the socks, and the guard followed him across a few parking lots, until Rockmore reached a parked car. He then turned to the guard and lifted his T-shirt. A handgun was partially visible outside the waistband of his pants.

“Let it go, let it be,” Rockmore told the the guard, according to the guard’s testimony. “You don’t want none.”

The guard backed off, and Rockmore drove away. But he was later tracked down.

Because Rockmore picked up his shirt to display the gun that stayed in his waistband, the petty theft case was filed as an armed robbery.

And because Rockmore was a convicted felon who had been released within three years of the new crime, the shoplifting of the socks became not only a serious felony, but one that would trigger a mandatory life sentence as a “prison releasee re-offender.”

Rockmore made a bad decision on that day. And he will pay for that $4 package of socks for the rest of his life.

Dr. Melgen made bad decisions as a business practice during the six-year period covered by his indictment and conviction. And along the way, he performed unnecessary and painful injections in the eyes of his patients for a disease they didn’t have, according to a medical expert who testified in the case.

To sort out an equitable level of crime and punishment in these two cases, you might start with this question:

How many pairs of stolen Walmart socks equals one unnecessary eye injection?