Justice Department officials say Sen. Bob Menendez took bribes from a deep-pocketed benefactor and in exchange the Democratic senator lobbied top government officials to help his friend get out of a billing dispute. As the trail against Menendez and his wealthy eye-doctor friend drags on, the alleged scheme appears to involve officials and Democrats at the highest level.
While testifying in court on Tuesday afternoon, former Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius said then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) set up a meeting with her and Menendez in 2012. In the “unusual” meeting, Menendez asked Sebelius to “do something” about the billing dispute between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the wealthy ophthalmologist. Melgen was convicted of Medicare fraud for his role in the alleged scheme earlier this year after he overbilled the government for $8.9 million worth of single-use eye drops that he was actually reusing multiple times.
“It was unusual for Senator Reid to ask me to come to a meeting involving another member of Congress,” Sebelius said, according to NJ.com. “It was the only time I was asked to address an issue on billing.”
The former HHS secretary said she was aware of the ongoing billing dispute and was warned by her staff of Menendez’s interest in the case. While the New Jersey senator did not mention Melgen by name in the meeting, the conversation surrounded billing policies that would affect the Florida eye-doctor’s case.
“[It] was not a very satisfactory meeting,” she testified on Tuesday. “We came in with a dispute and left with the same dispute after about 30 minutes. The same discussion was repeated a couple of times but it just basically ended.”
Yesterday a former CMS deputy administrator, Jonathan Blum, testified that Menendez tried to pressure him into amending the agency’s billing policies to “relieve or forgive or lessen” his friend’s actions. Blum said Menendez got “hostile” and abruptly ended a phone call in 2009 when the bureaucrat refused to help the wealthy eye doctor, prompting him to investigate the New Jersey senator’s connection to Melgen.