SANTO DOMINGO -- Dr. Salomon Melgen arrives at galas here in a blue Mercedes-Benz, his four bodyguards in tow.
He rarely goes unnoticed. The stout 58-year-old ophthalmologist is a regular on the society pages, where he is almost always pictured with important politicians. Late last year he made national headlines for performing free eye surgery on a 28-year-old woman who had been shot in the face.
“He’s a national treasure,” said Eduardo Gamarra, an international relations professor at Florida International University who has polled extensively in the Dominican Republic. “He has the reputation of a miracle worker.”
But Melgen’s carefully crafted public image began to unravel this week, when federal investigators raided his West Palm Beach eye clinic as part of a probe into potential Medicare fraud. Separately, The Miami Herald confirmed the existence of a federal corruption investigation involving his ties to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
“Everybody in this country loves him,” said his cousin, Vinicio Castillo Semán, a member of a powerful family in the Dominican Republic. “He lives his life helping people, returning their sight to them, as he did for Jose Jose,” a famous Mexican performer.
Among eye patients he has treated: former Dominican presidents Joaquín Balaguer and Juan Bosch.