A federal judge has issued an order allowing Dr. Dipak Desai to plead guilty in Reno to a health care fraud conspiracy stemming from the 2007 hepatitis C outbreak.
Federal prosecutors had strongly objected to moving the plea and subsequent sentencing out of Las Vegas, where the crime was committed.
But Senior U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks, who is based in Reno, said in his three-page order late Tuesday that “good medical cause exists” to grant Desai’s request.
Hicks said he recognized that there was “intense Southern Nevada interest” in the Desai case and ordered both the plea and sentencing hearings to be broadcast by video to a federal courtroom in Las Vegas.
A date has not been set for Desai’s change of plea hearing, and no plea has been publicly filed in court.
In court papers last month, lead defense lawyer Richard Wright said the move to Reno would allow Desai to remain in the state prison medical unit in Carson City where he is being treated for “neurological and cardiac” conditions.
Desai, 65, who has suffered three strokes since 2007, is serving a life sentence under medical watch at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center for the murder of a patient in the Las Vegas hepatitis outbreak.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Crane Pomerantz called the move in court papers a “misguided attempt to avoid the notoriety” the plea would generate in Las Vegas.
“Having committed a notorious crime in Las Vegas, Desai should be required to answer the charges here,” Pomerantz wrote.
Hicks said in his order that he expected it would take a long time in court to review the plea agreement to make sure Desai understands it. He said an interpreter in Desai’s native Indian language must be present.
A U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychological evaluation of Desai last year found that he was competent to stand trial, but suffered from memory and cognitive impairments, Hicks wrote.
State medical authorities examined Desai for six weeks prior to his 2013 District Court trial and found that he was exaggerating the effects of his strokes. That prompted county prosecutors to accuse him of malingering.
District Judge Valerie Adair later sentenced Desai to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 18 years.
Desai and his former clinic manager, Tonya Rushing, were indicted by a federal grand jury in 2011 on one count of conspiracy and 25 counts of health care fraud. Rushing pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in July and awaits sentencing.
The two were accused of carrying out a scheme to inflate the length of medical procedures and overbill health insurance companies.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ