Surgeon gets five years' probation

Las Vegas spine surgeon Mark Kabins left federal court on Thursday with a felony conviction and no prison time.

Senior U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush accepted the surgeon's plea agreement Thursday morning and sentenced him to five years of probation. Kabins also received six months of home confinement but will be allowed to go to work during that time.

"In the final resolution, I think the government has treated you fairly," the judge told Kabins.

Kabins, 49, pleaded guilty in November to "misprision of felony," which Quackenbush defined as "a failure to report an alleged crime committed by others."

The conviction is the first in a 2007 fraud case involving allegations that a network of Las Vegas doctors and lawyers cheated clients out of honest services by protecting doctors from malpractice lawsuits and sharing kickbacks from legal settlements. Kabins became a defendant in the case in March, when he was charged with conspiracy and fraud.

A trial for two co-defendants, personal injury attorney Noel Gage and former medical consultant Howard Awand, is scheduled to begin Feb. 10.

In court on Thursday, Kabins said he has devoted his life to the medical profession and hopes to continue helping others.

"This has been a long and painful ordeal for my family and for myself," he told Quackenbush.

Quackenbush, who reserved the right to terminate Kabins' probation early, said he was impressed by letters written to him in support of the surgeon. The judge also said everyone in the courtroom had made serious mistakes in their lives.

"Mistakes in this case have led you to being here today," Quackenbush told the defendant.

Rabbi Shea Harlig from Chabad of Southern Nevada attended the hearing to show his support for Kabins, whom he has known for two or three years.

"The Dr. Kabins that I know is different than the way he's portrayed in the newspaper," Harlig said after the hearing.

The rabbi said he hopes Kabins will be allowed to retain his medical license.

"He's really a good surgeon and a good human being," Harlig said.

Among those who wrote letters on Kabins' behalf were his wife, two fellow surgeons, an employee and a patient.

Kabins' wife, Lori, also attended the sentencing hearing. According to her letter, the couple have been married since 1986 and moved to Las Vegas in 1992. They have three children.

"He is non-materialistic and lives a life of simple means," Lori Kabins wrote. "Greed, he has not."

Fellow spine surgeon Daniel Lee, who came to Las Vegas in 2003, wrote in his letter that Kabins could be regarded as his competitor. Nevertheless, according to the letter, Kabins has been his mentor and friend.

"He has repeatedly proven that he is someone in the Southern Nevada Medical Community who we can have faith in to assist and advise young physicians such as myself, in difficult times," Lee wrote. "Furthermore, he is a spine surgeon who provides a singular and unique service to Southern Nevada, in terms of very complex and difficult spinal cases that other surgeons would not administer."

Lee recounted several instances in which Kabins helped him, during inconvenient times, in "challenging spine cases of catastrophic trauma with paralysis." Two involved children, according to the letter, and all resulted in recovery.

"The public, the media and the medical board will never know this side of Dr. Kabins," Lee wrote. "It is my duty to inform you of what I consider, heroic and self-sacrificing acts that should be commended and brought to the attention of the medical board."

In June 2008, the state Board of Medical Examiners filed formal complaints against two surgeons who had testified in the fraud case under a grant of immunity. No formal complaint has been filed against Kabins, and no one at the board could be reached for comment Thursday.

"We are hopeful that Dr. Kabins will be able to continue to practice medicine," defense attorney David Chesnoff said. "The events in question are a decade old, and it was clear today that the judge recognized what a valuable doctor Dr. Kabins is."

Kabins' plea agreement requires him to perform 250 hours of community service and to pay $3.5 million to a former patient, Melodie Simon, who became a paraplegic after he and another surgeon operated on her in 2000.

According to a statement issued by U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden after Kabins entered his plea, Kabins "acknowledged that he used Awand to corruptly influence Gage not to sue him, and that he concealed the crime that Awand and Gage thereafter committed."

Gage represented Simon in her medical malpractice case. Rather than sue Kabins or the other surgeon who operated on her, the lawyer sued an anesthesiologist. The case settled, and Simon received $1.3 million.


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