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FL Doc Tied To NJ Senator Remains Jailed

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A federal judge pressed for further details Monday on the foreign assets of a Florida doctor charged with corruption alongside New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, putting off a decision on his bond after nearly eight weeks behind bars.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hopkins said he needed to know the value of properties and bank accounts held by Dr. Salomon Melgen in his native Dominican Republic before determining an appropriate bond.

"The property in the Dominican Republic is an important ingredient in the equation," Hopkins said. "It gives the defendant incentive to flee, knowing that he would have substantial assets to flee to and for his family to ultimately benefit from."

Hopkins ruled last month that Melgen should be held until he stands trial in the Medicare fraud case, which is separate from the corruption charges he faces with Menendez in New Jersey.

But U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra overruled him on Friday, saying while he agreed Melgen is a flight risk and that the evidence against him is considerable, he still should be allowed to be released.

Melgen's defense attorney, Matthew Menchel, said he would work to get the information requested by Hopkins before returning to court Wednesday. Marra's order said Melgen couldn't stay in a home with water access, which would eliminate his primary residence, and that the Dominican government must provide a written declaration saying the doctor wouldn't be shielded from extradition if he fled to that country. Hopkins also asked for a valuation on Melgen's art collection.

After Menchel asked that his client be allowed to skip the next hearing due to failing health, Melgen made his voice heard for the first notable time in the case. Seeking to assure Hopkins he had no plans to flee, he said: "Your honor, I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying here." After the hearing recessed, the doctor's wife, Flor Melgen, said her husband had lost about 40 pounds in jail and that "time will tell" that he is not guilty.

"The only thing he wants is to clear his name," she said.

The indictment unsealed in Florida in April came just two weeks after another one in New Jersey in which prosecutors claim Menendez intervened on his friend's behalf to gain visas for Melgen's foreign girlfriends, press Dominican officials to honor a lucrative port contract for one of the doctor's businesses and influence Medicare officials on billing disputes. In exchange, authorities say, Melgen showered the senator with flights, vacations and contributions.

Both Melgen and Menendez have pleaded not guilty in that case as well.