The Department of Justice (DOJ) expects to bring criminal corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) based on his relationship with Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, according to a report by CNN.
Although an official announcement is expected within weeks, sources told CNN that Attorney General Eric Holder approved prosecutors' request to officially charge Menendez. The case focuses on whether Menendez used his position of power to influence investigations surrounding Melgen's practice. The charges revolve around a trip Menendez took in 2011 with Melgen--a longtime friend and campaign donor--along with allegations that Menendez used his influence to raise concerns regarding an audit that showed the physician had overbilled Medicare $8.9 million in 2009.
Last year, Melgen was charged with overbilling and fraud after physician payment data showed he was one of the highest paid physicians in the country, earning $20.8 million from Medicare in 2012.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Politico about a private meeting she had with Menendez in August 2012. Sebelius said that the topic of the meeting, held in the office of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), focused on the audit that revealed potential overbilling patterns in Melgen's practice.
Menendez argued that "uneven billing practices" from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) put Melgen's company at a disadvantage, but Sebelius explained the rules were "uniformly administered." Federal investigators spoke with both Reid and Sebelius about the meeting, according to Politico.
Menendez denies any foul play. A spokesperson told Politico that he never mentioned Melgen by name and that he met with Sebelius and Reid to discuss general ambiguities within CMS billing policies.
Prosecutors persuing federal corruption charges against Menendez have a "difficult--but not impossible--task in making their case," according to the Washington Post. Menendez's longstanding friendship with Melgen could impede the prosecution's allegations that he interfered with CMS investigations as a result of Melgen's campaign contributions.