NEWARK — Two days after writing a second $300,000 check to a Democratic super PAC, a donation earmarked to help Sen. Bob Menendez’s 2012 reelection campaign, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen sent an email to one of the group’s top fundraisers bringing up his $8.9 million Medicare dispute in which he was allegedly trying to get officials to intervene.
“Jake, please find attached memo on the latest developments,” Melgen wrote, attaching a lengthy memo from a law firm he had hired to work on the billing dispute.
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The October 2012 email Melgen authored was sent to Jake Perry, then the managing fundraising consultant for Majority PAC, a super PAC tied to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for whom Perry once worked as a staffer.
Perry was surprised and elated to have received the check from Melgen, he testified Wednesday during Menendez’s federal corruption trial. It was the second $300,000 check the doctor had written to the super PAC, Perry said, the first having come in June. Melgen also made a $100,000 donation to the super PAC that was not designated to help any specific candidate, according to testimony.
Perry testified that he had not asked Melgen for either donation, and did not know who had. But both checks had come in an envelope sent by New Jersey attorney Donald Scarinci, Perry said. Scarinci is one of Menendez’s closest friends.
“I just saw your check cross my desk. Thank you. You are the best!!!!” Perry wrote to Melgen in October, according to an email introduced as evidence on Wednesday.
Prosecutors at the trial of Menendez and Melgen, his co-defendant, allege the $300,000 check was part of about $750,000 in political contributions Melgen made to bribe Menendez, his friend, to take action to help him with the Medicare billing dispute, a port security contract dispute in the Dominican Republic and to secure visas for the doctor’s foreign girlfriends.
Perry testified that he agreed to forward the memo to Reid. Included in the memo was a line that it would be “appropriate for the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to intervene” in Melgen’s dispute, even though, at the time, the matter was being handled by the Medicare Appeal Council, which was outside HHS’s jurisdiction.
The $300,000 donation was not exactly a smoking gun. Although Perry said he forwarded the memo to Reid, it came two months after Reid, at Menendez’s request, had already arranged a meeting with Menendez and then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Although Melgen had written another $300,000 check before the meeting, prosecutors have yet to present any evidence tying it to any action Menendez or anyone else took to aid Melgen.
According to prosecutors, the point of the meeting Reid arranged with Menendez and Sebelius was so Menendez, a Democrat and New Jersey’s senior senator, could press the secretary to do something about Melgen’s billing dispute. According to the defense, Menendez was not advocating specifically for Melgen, but rather about a larger issue involving an expensive drug, Lucentis, that had been brought to his attention by Melgen.
According to testimony, Reid never took action after arranging and attending the meeting and HHS never intervened to help Melgen, who in a separate case earlier this year was convicted of Medicare fraud.
Perry said he first met Melgen at the St. Regis Washington, D.C., hotel in January 2012. They were introduced by Paul Dinino, a lobbyist who would later work for Melgen on his Medicare dispute. Two months later, Perry said, he spent a long weekend with Melgen at the doctor’s villa in the Dominican Republic after being flown there from Florida on Melgen’s private jet (Melgen had also paid for Perry’s commercial airfare to Florida).
During their initial meeting at the hotel and their weekend in the Dominican Republic, Melgen brought up his Medicare billing dispute as well as his port security contract in the Dominican Republic, Perry said
Perry said the purpose of the trip was to get to know Melgen, and that he never asked him for a donation. Nevertheless, three months later, Perry was surprised to receive the first $300,000 check from Melgen.
“Dr. Sal came through. Definitely worth my trip to the Dominican Republic,” Perry wrote in an email to Democratic fundraiser Craig Varoga.
“Why did you say that — ‘definitely worth my trip to the Dominican Republic?’” prosecutor Peter Koski asked Perry.
“I think i was just trying to be facetious,” Perry said. “The check had come in, but I hadn’t done anything.”
Defense attorneys highlighted that the exchange did not include Menendez, and that Perry never talked to the New Jersey senator about the donations.
“Do you recall that the reason Dr. Melgen was sending that to you was because he wanted to pass it along to Harry Reid?” Menendez attorney Jenny Kramer asked.
“Yes,” Perry said.
“Not Senator Menendez?” Kramer asked. Perry agreed.
“Did Melgen ever demand, to your knowledge, that anyone do anything for him?” Kramer asked.
“No,” Perry said.
The trial, which wrapped up before 2 p.m. Wednesday, is in recess until Tuesday.
Menendez, who has attended every day of the trial, gave a short press conference after the proceedings to announce that he was heading back to Washington Wednesday afternoon.
“Our work continues when it is possible, and even when I am not physically in Washington, by the use of our staff and colleagues,” he said.
Menendez said he plans to attend a White House briefing on Iran with President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, talk to DACA students, cast votes for nominees and speak on the Senate floor about his visit last week to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico.
“I think the president has difficulty both exhibiting empathy and understanding the magnitude,” Menendez said of Trump’s response to the situation in Puerto Rico.