Second nurse pleads not guilty in hepatitis case

Ronald Lakeman, the second nurse anesthetist charged in the 2007 hepatitis C outbreak, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in District Court.

The 63-year-old Lakeman, who is free on $500,000 bail, is facing a 28-count criminal indictment with the central figure in the hepatitis outbreak, Dr. Dipak Desai, and another nurse anesthetist, Keith Mathahs.

Desai, 60, and Mathahs, 74, pleaded not guilty earlier this month. The two men also are free on bail.

Lakeman stood stone-faced as District Judge Donald Mosley accepted his plea.

Afterward, Lakeman's lawyer, Frederick Santacroce would not allow his client to comment on the charges.

Santacroce refused to say how Lakeman, who lives in Columbus, Ga., was able to put together money and collateral to post his bail. Typically, a bail bondsman might require a down payment of 10 percent or 15 percent.

"His family rallied around him," Santacroce said. "I want to make it clear that Dr. Desai in no way, shape or form helped with the bail."

In court papers last week, Santacroce said his client hasn't worked as a nurse anesthetist since February 2008, when word of the hepatitis C outbreak became public. He now is living off of Social Security. Lakeman was arrested in Georgia on June 8 and transported to Las Vegas on June 15.

Mathahs' lawyer, Michael Cristalli, also has denied that Desai helped with his client's $500,000 bond. Desai, who has bragged about being worth as much as $200 million, posted a $1 million cashier's check to make his bail earlier this month.

The felony charges against all three defendants, who are set to stand trial on March 14, include racketeering, insurance fraud and neglect of patients.

The indictment revolves around the cases of seven people health officials say were infected with the potentially deadly hepatitis C virus at Desai's Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada: one on July 25, 2007, and six on Sept. 21, 2007.

Public health investigators said the virus was spread when a nurse anesthetist during a colonoscopy would reuse a syringe to draw medication for a patient, contaminating the medication vial, which then would be used for other patients.

Late Wednesday, battle lines were drawn for another legal fight in the case.

Court papers showed that prosecutors are seeking all records from R&R Partners relating to its public relations work for Desai after the hepatitis outbreak was disclosed.

R&R had planned a Feb. 27, 2008, news conference that Desai was supposed to attend. Prosecutors said he ended up backing out at the last minute because of a health issue, leaving one of his clinic partners, Dr. Eladio Carrera, to face the media.

Prosecutors contend Desai, who suffered a stroke in 2007, has been faking the seriousness of his health problems, and that his sudden disappearance at the news conference is one example.

Richard Wright, Desai's criminal defense attorney, filed a motion Wednesday seeking to block prosecutors from obtaining the R&R records, arguing they had improperly issued a grand jury subpoena for them after the June 4 indictment.

Prosecutors acknowledged the mistake and later issued what they said was a proper District Court subpoena for the records in its place.

Wright also said in his motion that he would fight turning over the R&R records on grounds they fell under the attorney-client privilege. The public relations firm worked with Desai's lawyers, Wright wrote.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@review or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at