HARRISON – With some polls showing a surprisingly tight race, Bob Menendez hit Bob Hugin Tuesday with a charge that the Republican made a fortune deceiving cancer patients.
While this was not a new line of attack, the senator’s rhetoric reached new heights when he also ridiculed Hugin’s claim that he turned around the drug company he ended up running, the Celgene Corp.
“Bob Hugin, you’re no Steve Jobs, you’re a fraud,” Menendez said at a press conference in a doctor’s office in this gritty Hudson County town that is quite similar to Union City, where both candidates coincidentally grew up.
Hugin has spoken often about going to work for Celgene when it was a struggling company with enough cash to last a few months at most. He takes credit for making the Summit company an industry leader, expressing pride that Celgene has helped make cancer a chronic disease rather than a fatal one.
Menendez sees things differently, and he does have at least some ammunition on his side.
Celgene in July of 2017 paid $280 million to resolve “fraud allegations related to promotion of cancer drugs not approved by FDA.” That was how the U.S. Attorney’s Office described the case in a July 24, 2017 press release.
The release went on to say that Celgene paid the money to settle a “whistleblower” lawsuit that the company promoted two cancer drugs – Thalomid and Revlimid – for unapproved uses. The allegations also included the use of false and misleading statements about the drugs and paying kickbacks to physicians to prescribe the drug.
Such settlements are not uncommon in the world of corporate America. And as is customary, Celgene did not admit liability in settling the case.
As a lawyer, Menendez knows the legal particulars. but this was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“You don’t pay $280 million if you absolutely did nothing wrong,” he said, adding that Hugin was the “poster child” for a greedy drug company CEO.
Hugin, who maintains that the overall record of Celgene is a good one, has ammunition of his own.
Menendez was admonished by his Senate colleagues earlier this year after his indictment on corruption charges stemming from his friendship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor. After a jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charges, the government declined to retry the senator.
Hugin has been running ads since the beginning of summer saying Menendez is “corrupt” and “guilty,” using the Senate action as proof.
A more recent TV ad from Hugin alleges that one of Melgen’s patients became blind in one eye after he treated her.
Menendez dismissed that line of attack out of hand, saying nothing like that was part of “the proceedings,” by which he presumably meant the trial.
The Hugin campaign responded to the senator’s event with a statement that didn’t much mince words either. It called the senator a “hypocrite and a liar.”
It said that the suit in question was filed by a “disgruntled employee” and that Celgene settled the case so the “company could focus on its core mission of helping people and finding cures for cancer.”
It also noted that Menendez over the years has taken campaign money from Celgene’s PAC.
That fact, of course, also means that at one time, Celgene’s PAC supported Menendez.
“They were for me before they were against me,” Menendez cracked.