Palm Beach County Ophthalmologist Sentenced to 17 Years for Healthcare Fraud Receives Presidential Pardon
Being found guilty at trial in criminal court and receiving a sentence is not the end of the story. Of course, some people choose to serve their sentences and put the past behind them rather than going back to court about the same case, but your rights as a defendant do not end as soon as the verdict or sentence is pronounced. If you believe that you were unfairly convicted or that your sentence is excessive, you have the right to file an appeal. A criminal defense lawyer can help you overturn your conviction. Likewise, if you are incarcerated and become eligible for parole, your lawyer can help you persuade the court that justice dictates that you have your freedom restored sooner rather than later. Some defendants also file a petition for pardon. For defendants convicted in state criminal court, the governor can grant a pardon and end your sentence early. For defendants convicted in federal cases, the President of the United States is the one with the power to grant the pardon. Here, our Miami white collar crimes defense lawyer explains how a South Florida eye doctor convicted of defrauding Medicare out of millions of dollars and subjecting elderly patients to risky and painful, but medically unnecessary, procedures received a presidential pardon during President Donald Trump’s final days in office.
The Charges: Healthcare Fraud, Making False Statements
Salomon Melgen was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to South Florida, where he eventually established an ophthalmology clinic with office locations throughout Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. At one point, Governor Lawton Chiles even appointed him to a state position after having previously been under his care as a patient. He first drew the suspicion of regulators because of how he used Lucentis, an injectable drug used to treat wet macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is a common eye disease in elderly people, but approximately 97 percent of patients have the dry variety of the disease. Lucentis is not approved for dry macular degeneration, making it inappropriate for the vast majority of the patients to whom he administered it. Even worse, Lucentis comes in single-use vials meant to be used for one dose and then discarded, although the amount of the drug in the vial is enough for four injections. (Injectable drugs are packaged this way for safety reasons; it is not an intentionally wasteful practice.) Melgen routinely gave four patients Lucentis injections from the same vial, although doing so put the patients at unnecessary risk of contracting infections that could lead to blindness. He would file separate Medicare claims as if he had been using four different vials, getting four times the reimbursement. In 2008, Melgen received a warning to stop using the same single-dose Lucentis vial on multiple patients.
In 2017, Melgen went to trial on charges of healthcare fraud, making false statements, and falsifying patient records. During the trial, the prosecution showed evidence of the following misdeeds on Melgen’s part:
- Filing claims for procedures never performed and medications never purchased
- Ordering thousands of medically unnecessary tests, including filing claims for testing both eyes on patients who had only one eye and ordering futile tests on eyes that he had already determined needed to be removed
- Performing painful laser surgeries of the retinas of patients for whom these treatments would not be of benefit
They alleged that, between 2004 and 2013, Melgen defrauded Medicare out of $190 million. Meanwhile, Melgen’s lawyers argued that Melgen was being unfairly targeted by prosecutors because of his political relationships, especially his friendship with Robert Menendez, a Democratic Senator and outspoken critic of the Obama Administration’s policies toward Iran and Cuba.
The Sentence of the Presidential Pardon
If Melgen had been convicted of all his charges and received the maximum sentence, he could have faced up to 610 years in prison. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and in 2017, Melgen was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison. In 2021, President Trump issued a presidential pardon, which saw Melgen, 66, released from prison after serving less than four years of his sentence.
Let Us Help You Today
Most defendants do not get presidential pardons or governors’ pardons. The better choice is to contact a Miami white collar crime lawyer, who will help you decide whether to focus on getting your charges dismissed, negotiating a plea deal, or pleading not guilty and establishing reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors during your trial. Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo for a consultation on your case.