Apr 12, 2015

Locally Speaking

The Salacious Details Of Robert Menendez’s Indictment

New Jersey U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez accepted nearly $1 million in lavish gifts and campaign contributions from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for the Democrat’s political help, including intervention on behalf of Melgen’s businesses and for three of his visa-seeking foreign girlfriends.

In a 68-page indictment handed down on Wednesday, the Department of Justice accused Menendez and Melgen, both 61, of engaging in corruption and bribery between 2006 and 2013.

What Menendez did for Melgen

According to the indictment, Menendez helped three of Melgen’s girlfriends — a Brazilian, a Dominican and a Ukrainian – obtain U.S. visas in 2007 and 2008.

Melgen, who has a wife named Flor, met his Brazilian girlfriend — a model, actress and lawyer — in 2007. Melgen suggested that his girlfriend move to the U.S. to attend school in South Florida, and she applied for a student visa. On July 24, 2008, a day before her visa application appointment in Brazil, Menendez’s senior policy adviser emailed the deputy assistant secretary of state in Brazil in order to grease the wheels.

The woman was granted the pass and eventually enrolled at the University of Miami to pursue a law degree.

According to the indictment, Melgen financed her tuition through his Sal Melgen Foundation, a non-profit foundation that is aimed at “helping with the educational needs of disadvantaged persons.”

Menendez also helped Melgen’s Dominican girlfriend and her sister obtain visas in 2008. Melgen met the woman, also a model, in 2005. After the sisters’ visas were initially denied on Nov. 6, 2008, Menendez and his staff intervened with the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic. That seemed to help the sisters’ case, as they were granted the visas following a re-interview on Dec. 1, 2008.

Menendez’s help was so instrumental in the ploy that one of his staffers emailed another, writing, “In my view, this is ONLY DUE to the fact that [Robert Menendez] intervened. I’ve told RM.”

Menendez also intervened to ensure that Melgen’s Ukrainian girlfriend was granted a visa in early 2007. The woman, also a model, was living in Spain at the time. After Menendez sent a letter endorsing her, she was granted the visa on Feb. 22, 2007.

According to the indictment, this intervention was evidence that Menendez sought to “influence the immigration visa proceedings of Melgen’s foreign girlfriends.”

Menendez also pressured the State Department to approve a deal that would benefit Melgen’s interests in a port security deal in the Dominican Republic. Melgen’s company, ICSSI, had a 20-year contract with the Dominican government to x-ray shipping containers going in and out of the nation’s ports. ICSSI was set to receive $90 for each container it scanned.

According to the indictment, Menendez and his staff intervened with the assistant secretary of state for Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs to gain U.S. approval of the deal.

And on Jan. 11, 2013, Menendez directed a staffer to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to put a hold on its plan to donate monitoring equipment to the Dominican Republic. Such a donation would “threaten” Melgen’s interests, according to the indictment.

But Menendez, through his staff, told CBP that he had concerns that agents of influence may have sought to use the donated equipment because it “will be less effective than the outside contractor’s.” That contractor was, of course, Melgen’s company.

Menendez also stepped in to help Melgen after his Palm Beach medical practice became embroiled in a dispute with the Zone Program Integrity Contractor for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS). The agency slapped Melgen with a $8.9 million judgement stemming from his billing for the drug Lucentis.

According to the indictment, Melgen “multi-dosed” the drug. While each vile of the drug contains one dose, Melgen was getting up to three doses per vial and overbilling Medicare for the difference.

When Melgen informed Menendez that he was set to be audited on the matter, the senator emailed staff on June 12, 2009, saying that “we need to help him.”

Menendez sought out meetings with officials at CMS and with Kathleen Sebelius, then the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Ironically, when Sebelius’s staff was finally able to make Sebelius available for a conference call on Aug. 6, 2010, on the matter, Menendez’s staff had to postpone the chat because he was flying on Melgen’s private jet headed to his home in the Dominican Republic.

Menendez eventually met with both Sebelius and CMS’s then-acting director, Marilyn Tavenner. He met with Tavenner first, on June 7, 2012. He met with Sebelius on Aug. 2. Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, sat in on that meeting. Neither meeting helped Melgen’s plea for relief.

What Melgen did for Menendez

In exchange for the political help, Melgen showered Menendez with vacations and plane rides that the Democrat used for himself and his girlfriends. Melgen also funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Menendez and his Democratic allies.

In 2012, Melgen donated $700,000 to the Majority PAC, a political action committee controlled by associates of Reid. Nearly all of that amount, $600,000, was earmarked for Menendez. Those donations were made at around the time that Reid brokered the meeting with Sebelius on Melgen’s Medicare overbilling case.

According to the indictment, Menendez began flying on Melgen’s private plane to the doctor’s Dominican residence in 2006. Menendez would travel by himself, with Melgen, or with a girlfriend, according to the indictment. On one occasion, Melgen flew Menendez’s girlfriend at the time to meet him at the resort, called Casa de Campo.

The indictment lists flights embarking to and from Casa de Campo on Aug. 18, 2006, April 4, 2007, Aug. 30, 2008, May 28, 2010 and Aug. 6, 2010.

On Oct. 8, 2010, Melgen paid $890 to fly Menendez first-class from Newark to West Palm Beach. Three days later, Melgen chartered a private flight for Menendez on which he was the only passenger.

Melgen also forked over $4,934 to pay for Menendez’s three-night stay at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vindome. There, Menendez visited a woman with whom he had a personal relationship. She was in town with her sister, who traveled to Paris on business.

In 2011 and 2012, Melgen gave $40,000 to The Fund to Uphold the Constitution, a slush fund to help Menendez with a recall effort.

Melgen’s donations to Menendez and other Democrats came from himself, family members and through his companies.

Wednesday’s indictment lists 14 counts against Menendez, including one for conspiracy, one for violating the travel act, eight for bribery, three counts of honest services fraud, and one for making false statements.

He has not issued a statement since the indictment was handed down. But when it was reported last month that the indictment was imminent, Menendez denied all wrongdoing and said he will not resign his seat.

“Government corruption – at any level of elected office – corrodes the public trust and weakens our democratic system,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell in a statement after the indictment was released.

“It is the fundamental responsibility of the Department of Justice to hold public officials accountable by conducting thorough investigations and seeking an indictment when the facts and the law support it.”

Menendez announced Wednesday night that he would temporarily step down as the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also vowed, “this is not how my career is going to end.”

“I am not going anywhere. I’m angry and ready to fight because today contradicts my public service and my entire life,” Menendez said at a press conference.

Fellow New Jersey Democrat Sen. Cory Booker also issued a statement of support.

“Senator Menendez has never wavered in his commitment to the people of New Jersey. He’s been an invaluable resource and a mentor to me since I arrived in the Senate.”

“Our nation and state face critical issues and I will continue to partner with Senator Menendez to take on the challenges before us.” -Source: The Daily Caller

N.J. Doctors Least Willing To Accept Medicaid Patients Under Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act has provided a path for 420,500 low-income New Jersey residents to gain insurance through the Medicaid program, but a new study says the state ranks last in the nation in doctors willing to treat them.

Just 38.7 percent of New Jersey physicians said they accepted new Medicaid patients in 2013 — far below the national average of nearly 69 percent, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Jersey is the only state where fewer than half of the doctors accepted new Medicaid patients. California, at 54.2 percent is second-lowest in the nation.

New Jersey also ranked at the bottom in a 2011-12 survey of 8,158 physicians, when 46 percent of primary care doctors said they had planned to take on new Medicaid patients.

It's unclear how the expanded Medicaid program and the Affordable Care Act in general has affected physician practices in New Jersey. But a study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation last week said that while patient volume is increasing, it's not off the charts.

"Contrary to what many anticipated, physician waiting rooms aren't being flooded by sicker-than-average newly insured patients," said Kathy Hempstead, who directs coverage issues at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "So far, the increase in demand is moderate, and new patients do not appear to differ much from established patients in terms of their chronic conditions."

New Jersey's Medicaid physician reimbursement rates — among the lowest in the country despite the state's high cost of living — have long suppressed doctor participation in the program known as NJ FamilyCare.

But the decline from 46 percent to 38 percent participation rate in New Jersey may surprise lawmakers and policy makers, who anticipated President Obama's health care law would entice more doctor interest. Obamacare raised Medicaid reimbursement rates in 2013 and 2014 to match Medicare rates.

Using this standard, participating New Jersey doctors would have received 109 percent increase in pay, according to Kaiser Health News, an independent, nonpartisan news service. Nationally, doctors would have received 73 percent more.

Those raises were delayed in 2013, however, because of federal budget cuts. The survey was conducted from February 2013 through June 2013, and the CDC report said it will need to look at 2014 data "to determine if physician acceptance of new Medicaid patients increased" because of the pay increases.

A report by NJ Advance Media in February detailed the problems people on Medicaid have finding a doctor who will see them. Making the situation even more challenging to patients, an investigation of the insurance company lists of participating providers revealed those lists to be inaccurate or out-of-date.

Acknowledging a physician shortage at a time of unprecedented growth in NJ FamilyCare, Gov. Chris Christie's proposed state budget dedicates $45 million to bump-up physician reimbursements, and $27.3 million to help hospitals offset the cost of training new doctors. He found the money by taking it from the charity care fund that partially reimburses hospitals for treating uninsured patients.

New Jersey is one of 27 states and the District of Columbia that chose to accept billions of dollars in federal aid to expand Medicaid eligibility to include adults without children.

Nebraska physicians were the most likely in the nation to accommodate the newly enrolled, with 96.5 percent participating. Among New Jersey's neighbors, 57 percent of doctors participated in New York, 81 percent in Pennsylvania, and 80 percent in Delaware.

Physicians in New Jersey were more accommodating to patients with private insurance and Medicare. In 2013, 87.5 percent of doctors accepted patients with private insurance -- higher than the national average of 84.7 percent -- 82.6 percent welcome Medicare patients, according to the 2013 National Electronic Health Records Survey.

Nationally, the survey found:

• 84.7 percent of physicians in the nation accepted new patients with private insurance;
• 83.7 percent of physicians accepted new Medicare patients;
• Doctors in metropolitan or city areas were less likely (67.2 percent) to accept Medicaid patients than those who practiced outside a metropolitan area (85.7 percent). The federally defined metropolitan areas in New Jersey are New York-Newark-Jersey City, and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington. –Source: Nj

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