Prosecutors have informed the physician and the two nurse anesthetists at the center of the hepatitis C outbreak that they are targets of a grand jury murder investigation, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has learned.
Dr. Dipak Desai, 62, and the two nurses, Keith Mathahs, 76, and Ronald Lakeman, 65, are currently facing racketeering, patient neglect and insurance fraud charges stemming from the 2007 outbreak at the physician's clinics.
But with the death of one of the outbreak's victims, all three defendants have received "Marcum" notices indicating the Clark County district attorney's office is raising the stakes in the criminal investigation into one of the worst medical disasters in the Las Vegas Valley.
Desai and company have been informed that prosecutors intend to present evidence of murder in the high-profile case to a county grand jury within the next week, sources said.
District Attorney Steve Wolfson declined to comment Wednesday.
But former District Attorney David Roger, who was at the helm of the office when the defendants were indicted in 2010, said murder charges would significantly increase the potential punishment in the case.
"These defendants are now looking at life sentences, which is certainly appropriate considering their alleged criminal conduct," Roger said.
Pursuit of the murder charges follows news of the death of Rodolfo Meana, one of the seven hepatitis C victims identified by health officials.
Meana, 77, died of complications from the virus in his native Philippines on April 27.
His infection was among seven the Southern Nevada Health District genetically linked to Desai's lead clinic, the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.
Meana and five other patients contracted the virus through unsafe injection practices Sept. 21, 2007, health officials concluded. Another patient was infected July 25, 2007.
The patients, all of whom testified previously before a grand jury, are named as victims of felony criminal neglect in the 28-count indictment against Desai and the two nurse anesthetists.
All three defendants, who are free on bail, are to stand trial Oct. 22 in the courtroom of District Judge Valerie Adair.
Desai, a gastroenterologist who has surrendered his medical license, posted $1 million in cash to keep from being jailed while fighting the charges.
His lead lawyer, Richard Wright, was out of town and unavailable for comment Wednesday. Another Desai lawyer, Margaret Stanish, declined to comment.
Attorneys Michael Cristalli and Rick Santacroce, who represent Mathahs and Lakeman respectively, also declined to comment.
The criminal investigation, which began shortly after health officials disclosed the hepatitis C outbreak in February 2008, was one of the largest undertaken by Las Vegas police.
Health officials notified 40,000 former Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada patients about possible exposure to blood-borne diseases. More notifications followed for patients of a sister clinic, Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center.
Officials blamed the outbreak on nurse anesthetists reusing propofol vials among patients after they had become contaminated by syringes that were reused on patients with hepatitis C.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135.