Florida trial set for 2016 for doctor tied to Sen. Menendez

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida doctor charged with corruption alongside New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez will face a trial early next year in a separate case charging him with Medicare fraud, a federal judge said Monday.

Judge Kenneth Marra set a February 2016 trial date for the Medicare fraud case in Florida with a status hearing this fall. He also asked that Dr. Salomon Melgen sign documents waiving his right to a speedy trial.

Attorneys for Melgen had said they had 500,000 pages of discovery to sift through in the New Jersey case and are still awaiting another massive batch of documents for the $190 million Medicare fraud case in South Florida.

Attorney Maria Dominguez said the defense will look to health care experts to prove that the Medicare charges were medically necessary for Melgen's patients.

The 60-year-old ophthalmologist remains in jail while his attorneys negotiate a deal for his bond. Prosecutors have argued that the doctor, who has a home in his native Dominican Republic and access to large amounts of cash, is a flight risk.

Melgen, who has pleaded not guilty, faces 610 years if convicted on all 76 counts in the case and sentences are imposed consecutively.

The West Palm Beach doctor is accused of falsely diagnosing many patients with serious eye conditions such as macular degeneration and retinal disorders, allowing him to then perform unnecessary and costly procedures such as laser surgery and eye injections for which he would bill Medicare.

The defense told Marra they'd prefer to try the Florida Medicare case before the New Jersey case. In that corruption case, prosecutors allege 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.

The New Jersey case is set for trial in fall, but Dominguez told the judge that trial date was unlikely and that Mendendez planned to file a major appeal.

"This is a complex case ... we're going to need that much time to conduct a meaningful review," Dominguez said.

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