April 16, 2015 / 3:31 PM / 4 years ago

Florida doctor linked to U.S. senator pleads not guilty to Medicare fraud

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida ophthalmologist accused of giving lavish gifts to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez in a corruption scandal that led to criminal charges against the New Jersey Democrat pleaded not guilty on Thursday in federal court to Medicare fraud charges.

Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen arrives at the Federal court in Newark, New Jersey, in this file photo taken April 2, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Files

Salomon Melgen faces 76 counts of Medicare fraud and falsifying medical records, for which he has been jailed in southern Florida since his indictment on Tuesday.

“He pleads not guilty to each and every count,” said his attorney, Maria Dominguez.

The North Palm Beach ophthalmologist will remain jailed. Prosecutors argued that he poses a flight risk, with access to a personal airplane and large amounts of cash. He also owns a villa and other property in the Dominican Republic.

Melgen’s attorneys did not request his release on bond in court on Thursday, but reserved the right to do so in the future.

In a separate case, Melgen is accused of giving gifts to Menendez, who in exchange allegedly used his political clout to help influence the outcome of Medicare disputes worth tens of millions to Melgen.

Melgen and Menendez, who are close friends, both pleaded not guilty earlier this month to political corruption charges in New Jersey.

In the Medicare fraud case, Melgen is accused of ordering unnecessary tests and procedures, and falsifying records at his high-volume Florida practice, which saw as many as 100 patients in a day, according to an indictment filed in the U.S. Southern District of Florida.

Medicare is the government health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.

His clinic was paid more than $105 million, much of that based on fraudulent claims, after billing Medicare more than $190 million between January 2008 and December 2013, according to the indictment.

He was charged with 46 counts of healthcare fraud, 19 counts of fraudulent claims and 11 counts of making false statements relating to healthcare, according to prosecutors.

He was released on $1.5 million bond in the Menendez case.

Menendez, a prominent Democratic voice on foreign policy in the Senate, is charged with accepting up to $1 million worth of gifts from Melgen in exchange for political favors.

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