Plea hearing set for doctor

Spine surgeon Mark Kabins, one of three defendants in a federal fraud case involving allegations that a network of Las Vegas doctors and lawyers conspired to cheat clients out of honest services, has a plea hearing scheduled for later this month.

It's unknown whether that means Kabins has struck a deal with prosecutors in exchange for testimony against other defendants in the case, but a lawyer for one said he was unconcerned with the prospect.

Los Angeles attorney Harland Braun, who represents co-defendant Howard Awand, said he does not care whether Kabins cooperates, "as long as he tells the truth."

"In fact, we want him to testify," Braun said.

Braun learned about Kabins' plea agreement, set for a Nov. 23 hearing, last week in e-mails from Senior U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush.

Co-defendant Noel Gage, a personal injury attorney, said he doesn't believe Kabins is cooperating with the government. "I believe they are destroying him," he said. "It's a sad day," he said, adding the government "must have put tremendous pressure on this poor doctor."

Kabins' lawyers could not be reached for comment Friday.

Braun said he plans to attend the plea hearing in Las Vegas to discover the terms of Kabins' agreement.

"I know what he did, and I don't think he did anything wrong," the attorney said. "To have an innocent guy pleading is distressing."

Daniel Bogden, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, declined to comment on the plea agreement.

Quackenbush, who is based in Spokane, Wash., scheduled the hearing in an order filed Monday.

According to Quackenbush's order, the judge has proposed a tentative trial date of Feb. 8 for Awand, a medical consultant, and Gage.

The fraud case centers on the defendants' actions involving Melodie Simon, who became paralyzed after Kabins and his partner, John Thalgott, operated on her in 2000. Simon later hired Gage to help her pursue malpractice claims.

Prosecutors granted immunity to Thalgott and another doctor, Benjamin Venger, in exchange for their testimony in the criminal case but refused to grant immunity to Kabins.

Prosecutors filed a court document last month that summed up their view of the fraud case. According to the document, the conspiracy centered on Kabins' efforts to avoid a lawsuit in the Simon case.

"This is a case about the workings of the inner-circle of very wealthy, prominent, and powerful people who used their wealth, power and influence to corruptly steer the civil litigation process to serve their own purposes, fraudulently enrich themselves at the expense of their victims, deceitfully avoid accountability for their own actions, and falsely sully the reputations of others," prosecutors wrote. "This is a case about how lies, deception, false statements, secret collusion, and bribery were used to cover-up the wrongdoing of that surgeon, keep the inner-circle of doctors and lawyers safe and prosperous, cheat Simon out of her claim, and fraudulently point the finger of blame at someone else."

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at or 702-384-8710.