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April 20, 2014

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Judge: Dipak Desai competent to stand trial in hepatitis case

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Sam Morris

Dr. Dipak Desai appears in court for a competency hearing Friday, Jan. 27, 2012.

A Clark County district judge ruled Thursday that Dipak Desai, the former high-profile Las Vegas physician at the heart of the hepatitis scare four years ago, is competent to stand trial.

Clark County District Judge Kathleen Delaney issued a four-page ruling Thursday afternoon that cleared the way for Desai to stand trial in connection with the 2007-08 hepatitis C outbreak at his colonoscopy clinics.

The judge’s ruling followed a daylong competency hearing Jan. 27, in which Desai’s attorney, Richard Wright, grilled the state’s three evaluators from the state’s Lakes Crossing mental health unit in Sparks. The three all said they believed Desai had been “malingering” or exaggerating the effects of two strokes on his mental ability.

Their testimony "consistently and overwhelmingly established Defendant's sufficient present ability to understand the charges against him and to assist counsel in his defense, and Defendant provided no credible evidence to the contrary," Delaney wrote.

Delaney said Desai's memory loss from the strokes, "even if true, is not a bar to prosecution of an otherwise competent Defendant."

Desai, 62, a former gastroenterologist who ran the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, and two of his nurse anesthetists, Keith H. Mathahs and Ronald E. Lakeman, were indicted by a grand jury in 2010 on 28 criminal counts related to the 2007-08 hepatitis outbreak.

Each is accused of infecting patients at Desai clinics with incurable hepatitis C.

The felony charges include racketeering, performance of an act in reckless disregard of persons or property, criminal neglect of patients, insurance fraud, theft and obtaining money under false pretenses.

That trial has been delayed until March 12, pending the outcome of the competency hearing.

Desai also faces federal conspiracy and fraud charges on a separate indictment handed up last April in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. Desai's attorney, Richard Wright, pleaded not guilty on Desai's behalf, and also argued that Desai is not competent for that trial.

The hepatitis outbreak prompted health officials to recommend testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV for about 50,000 patients. The Health District said patients might have been infected when nurses and other staff members reused syringes on endoscopy patients.

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