Salomon Melgen

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Opthamologist on trial along with Sen. Bob Menendez

The two are accused of a years-long bribery scheme

CNN  — 

Dr. Salomon Melgen – alongside Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez – has pleaded not guilty to the 18 counts of fraud and bribery filed against them. Their public corruption trial is set to kick off Wednesday with opening statements in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

Melgen is Menendez’s alleged “patron,” according to prosecutors in a recent trial brief – but defense attorneys say in court documents that he is simply a “close friend” of the senator.

Prosecutors insist that the men’s relationship was a “corrupt pact” in which Melgen showered Menendez with expensive vacations and campaign donations in exchange for the senator interceding on Melgen’s behalf in several different disputes with government officials – allegations the two vigorously deny.

Melgen grew up in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the United States in 1978, according to court documents. According to his ZocDoc profile, Melgen graduated from Harvard University in 1986. Four years later, according to the Justice Department, he incorporated his clinic, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants of the Palm Beaches, which expanded to four offices and facilitated as many as 100 patients a day. Many of his patients were Medicare beneficiaries, according to the Justice Department.

His specialty in retina issues proved to be lucrative – court documents filed by both defense and prosecutors acknowledge that Melgen grew to be wealthy – but he began to run into legal problems surrounding his business in 2009. That’s when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) discovered that Melgen had overbilled Medicare for $8.9 million for a drug called Lucentis, which is used to treat macular degeneration and other retina problems, according to court documents.

That is when Melgen, according to prosecutors, reached out to Menendez and asked him to intervene on his behalf with CMS.

Melgen and his team appealed the Department of Health and Human Services’ determination that he overbilled to the US Supreme Court, but the petition was denied earlier this year.

Two years later, in 2011, Melgen’s business was slapped with a $11 million lien from the IRS. In 2015, Melgen was formally charged with more than 76 counts of health care fraud and making false statements, according to the Justice Department. He was found guilty on all charges by a jury in April of this year and surrendered his medical license following the conviction, according to court documents.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in December of this year – his attorneys have requested for that to be postponed until after his case involving Menendez wraps up.