Ex-doctor pleads guilty to federal charges in hepatitis case

AP News
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Posted: Apr 02, 2015 6:40 PM

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former prominent Las Vegas doctor already serving 18 years to life in state prison pleaded guilty Thursday to federal health care fraud and conspiracy charges in a hepatitis C outbreak that was called one of the largest ever in the U.S.

The plea by Dipak Kantilal Desai, 65, avoided a federal trial for the former member of the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners and one-time owner of busy endoscopy and colonoscopy clinics.

Prosecutors say Desai oversaw a southern Nevada medical empire where procedures were rushed to save time; protective gowns, devices and vials of anesthesia were reused to save pennies; and bills to insurance companies were inflated to reap millions of dollars.

Staff was even told to limit the amount of lubricating jelly they used, a state prosecutor said.

U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said Desai agreed Thursday as part of his plea deal to forfeit about $2.2 million in property to the federal government.

Defense attorney Richard Wright said Desai's family was relieved to put the court cases to rest.

"They viewed this as piling on, since he pleaded in federal court to what he was already convicted of in state court," Wright said from Reno, where Desai appeared before U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks. The judge set sentencing for July 9.

Wright argued for years that Desai was unfit for trial in state or federal court because several strokes suffered about the same time the 2007 hepatitis outbreak became public made him unable to assist in his defense.

Desai sat impassively as he was found guilty in July 2013 in Clark County District Court of second-degree murder and 26 other criminal charges including neglect of patients and reckless disregard of persons resulting in substantial bodily harm, insurance fraud, obtaining money under false pretenses and theft.

Nurse-anesthetist Ronald Lakeman, a former employee at Dipak Desai's Endoscopy Clinic of Southern Nevada, was found guilty of 16 of 27 charges. Lakeman was spared a murder conviction stemming from the death of 77-year-old Rodolfo Meana in April 2012.

Lakeman and Desai are appealing their convictions and sentences.

Wright said Desai's likely federal sentence of 57 months would be served concurrently with his state prison term.

Health investigators linked at least nine and as many as 114 cases to Desai clinics in and around Las Vegas.

The outbreak became public in February 2008, when health officials notified 63,000 former Desai clinic patients to get tested for potentially fatal blood-borne diseases, including hepatitis and HIV.

It spawned dozens of lawsuits, including several that yielded jury findings holding drug manufacturers and the state's largest health management organization liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs.

The federal case against Desai and former clinic manager Tonya Rushing focused on fraudulent Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance bills.

Rushing pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to commit health care fraud in an agreement to pay $50,000 restitution plus a portion of $8.1 million in cash and property. She is due for sentencing on May 4.