Investigator witnessed deterioration of hepatitis C victims

A veteran detective explained on the witness stand Friday how the massive investigation began into the 2007 hepatitis C outbreak.

Robert Whiteley, an intelligence detective with the Metropolitan Police Department, said he was assigned to the case in March 2008 after health officials disclosed the outbreak at clinics run by Dr. Dipak Desai.

One of the first things Whiteley said he did was attend a March 3, 2008, briefing with state and federal investigators given by Brian Labus, the Southern Nevada Health District’s chief epidemiologist, who oversaw a public health investigation into the outbreak.

Police executed a search warrant on March 10, 2008, at Desai’s Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada on Shadow lane, seizing hundreds of boxes of records, Whiteley said.

In all, investigators pored over 100,000 patient files and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, including infected patients, said Whiteley, who has spent 18 years on the police force.

Whiteley said he noticed a physical and mental deterioration over the past few years in several of the victims he interviewed in 2008. One of the infected patients, Rodolfo Meana, died last year of complications from hepatitis C.

Whiteley’s testimony came at the close of the ninth week of the trial of Desai and nurse anesthetist Ronald Lakeman in the courtroom of District Judge Valerie Adair. Federal and local health officials determined unsafe injection practices caused the outbreak.

Desai, 63, and Lakeman, 66, are facing more than two dozen charges, including second-degree murder, criminal neglect of patients, theft and insurance fraud.