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Eye doctor awaits sentencing for Medicare fraud conviction

Two very different portraits were painted recently of Dr. Salomon Melgen, the Harvard-trained ophthalmologist. At his sentencing hearing, Melgen was painted by prosecutors as a greedy doctor willing to subject his patients to painful treatments that were medically unnecessary so that he could bill Medicare. Melgen's defense team said that portrait was a false one and insisted that the doctor is devoted to his patients and had helped many to regain sight after other physicians had given up on them.

Melgen is awaiting sentencing on his April conviction on 67 counts of Medicare fraud. In a statement to the court, the eye doctor conceded that he has made mistakes in his personal life, but that he was always committed to helping his patients. As he read his statement to the court dressed in prison garb and bound by shackles, the 63-year-old asked for mercy.

Prosecutors said Melgen deserves a 30-year sentence for Medicare fraud they claim exceeded $100 million. They said his years-long criminal activity funded a life of luxury that included an oceanfront mansion in Florida, a private jet and a vacation getaway in Melgen's native Dominican Republic.

Defense attorneys said that prosecutors had only been able to prove that Melgen took $64,000. They urged the judge to be fair and merciful to the eye doctor who is in failing health. They said a long prison term would be, in effect, a life sentence for a man who continues to enjoy the support of many of his former patients.

They said he treated many patients free of charge and that he often gave money to patients who were poor.

Melgen was tried with his friend, Sen. Bob Menendez, in a bribery case that ended in mistrial back in November. Prosecutors have not said whether that case will be retried.

Those under investigation in matters that could involve Medicare fraud should take note of Melgen's predicament and discuss possible evidence, charges and defenses with an attorney experienced in resolving legal issues for health care professionals.

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