NEWARK – Hours after the FBI completed a raid of Dr. Salomon Melgen’s West Palm Beach practice in 2013, Melgen’s son-in-law moved to block information on flights by Melgen’s private jet from public view, testimony in the federal corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez revealed today.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Melgen’s son-in-law, made an electronic request to the Federal Aviation Administration which placed data from the flights on the most restrictive list the FAA has, meaning information like takeoff time, destination, and speed would not be shared with websites like flightaware.Com and flightplan.com. A handful of the flights on Melgen’s private jet allegedly served as some of the bribes which the Democratic senator is on trial for accepting.
“The fact is, it was a clear act of concealment,” Department of Justice attorney Peter Koski told Judge William Walls outside the presence of the jury.
Koski added the blocking shows Melgen’s “consciousness of guilt,” a key factor in overcoming the burden of reasonable doubt at trial.
Melgen’s attorneys had argued the testimony by FAA official William Blacker should not be allowed because nothing was actually concealed from the government. By the time Rodriguez made his request just after midnight on Jan. 31, 2013, the FBI had completed two days of searches at Melgen’s opthamology practice in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Melgen attorney Murad Hussain also argued that the application to the FBI happened on the literal last day of the conspiracy, but that logic failed to move Judge Walls, who allowed Blacker to testify.
The defense was modestly successful in suppressing potential testimony from an accountant for the late businessman Hank Asher, a friend of Melgen’s who provided his private plane to fly Menendez home to New Jersey when Melgen’s plane had a mechanical failure. Jurors will hear that the accountant sent Melgen a $20,000 invoice for the cost of the flight, but not that Melgen never paid up, Walls ruled.
Asher died in January 2013, less than three weeks before the raids on Melgen’s offices.
The testimony Monday is a companion piece to what jurors heard Thursday, when the prosecution introduced into evidence a $58,000 check Menendez wrote to Melgen as reimbursement for the flights. Menendez wrote the check in January 2013, around the same time as the raid and the successful attempt by Rodriguez to block the flight data from public view.
Menendez sat at the defense table clad in a pinstripe suit, watching the legal arguments and testimony with his head cocked to the left side. The 12-count indictment states he used his office to benefit Melgen’s business and protect him in a Medicare dispute in exchange for flights on the private jet, a Paris hotel room, Dominican Republic vacations at Melgen’s villa and campaign donations. Melgen was convicted on 67 counts of Medicare fraud by a federal jury in Florida earlier this year.
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