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Nurses in Las Vegas hepatitis C case to stand trial

District Judge Donald Mosley on Thursday refused to dismiss the criminal case against the two nurse anesthetists charged with Las Vegas Dr. Dipak Desai in connection with the 2007 hepatitis C outbreak.

Following a hearing that stretched over two days, Mosley denied a defense bid challenging evidence presented to the grand jury against Keith Mathahs, 74, and Ronald Lakeman, 63.

"The state has met their burden," Mosley said from the bench.

Mathahs and Lakeman, who are free on $500,000 bail, are to stand trial on March 14 along with Desai, 60, who ran the clinics where the outbreak occurred.

Desai’s lawyers plan to challenge the evidence prosecutors presented against him if he is found competent to stand trial. He has been undergoing court-ordered medical evaluations to determine whether strokes left him unable to assist his lawyers.

All three defendants face 28 felony counts, including racketeering, neglect of patients, insurance fraud and performance of an act of reckless disregard of persons or property.

The charges revolve 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.

Health officials concluded that unsafe injection practices involving the sedative propofol led to the infections.

During the hearing, defense lawyer Michael Cristalli contended that prosecutors made Mathahs a "fall guy" in the well-publicized case because he happened to be the nurse who administered the propofol to a patient health officials determined was the source of the Sept. 21, 2007, infections.

Cristalli argued that prosecutors presented no direct evidence to the grand jury tying Mathahs to the racketeering scheme.

He said some of Desai’s partners, who made millions of dollars at the clinics, were more likely culprits in the conspiracy, but they were given immunity to cooperate with prosecutors.

Mathahs, who has never been in trouble with the law before, was a part-time clinic employee, Cristalli said.

"He was a working stiff who followed orders, Cristalli said.

Mosley, however, didn’t buy that assessment. He told the attorney that Mathahs, after 40 years as a nurse anesthetist, was more than just someone following orders.

Chief Deputy District Attorneys Pam Weckerly and Mike Staudaher argued that there was plenty of grand jury testimony showing that Mathahs and Lakeman knew Desai had a "pervasive practice" of cutting corners at the clinics at the expense of patient safety.

Prosecutors have alleged that Desai pressured clinic employees into using additional doses of propofol from single-use vials on more than one patient during procedures, contrary to accepted safety standards.

The racketeering conspiracy also involved providing insurance companies with false anesthesia records that inflated the costs of endoscopic procedures, prosecutors have charged.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.

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