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After indictments, jury still out on Nevada doctors’ licenses

Updated March 28, 2017 - 7:06 pm

The Las Vegas doctor convicted last week of 11 felony drug and financial counts still has an active license to practice medicine in Nevada, making him one of several state physicians who have faced criminal charges but escaped serious professional repercussions for years — or entirely.

While prosecutors were presenting evidence that Dr. Henri Wetselaar doled out oxycodone prescriptions to bogus patients, the 93-year-old pain management practitioner still was treating patients on the side.

“Dr. Wetselaar has continued to engage in the practice of medicine … after indicating to this court that he had competency issues,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cristina Silva said after the jury returned its verdict on Thursday.

Wetselaar, in defending himself against the charges, had tried to convince jurors he was a gullible old doctor with an outdated medical approach rather than a crooked drug pusher.

His trial opened Jan. 9. Defense attorneys and prosecutors said in court that the doctor was seeing patients as recently as last month — more than five years after his 2011 indictment on charges that he ran an illegal prescription pill mill.

In the period between Wetseleaar’s arrest on federal charges and his conviction on all counts, the only action the state Board of Medical Examiners took against him was an administrative complaint filed several months after his arrest. The Drug Enforcement Administration, on the other hand, revoked Wetselaar’s ability to prescribe controlled substances in 2012.

Now, nearly a week after the verdict, Wetselaar is incarcerated but still has his license, and the executive director of the state medical board says it will not be revoked until after the doctor’s sentencing.

MEDICAL BOARD RESPONDS

The sentencing marks the formal judgment in a criminal case. Edward Cousineau, the executive director of the state Board of Medical Examiners, said that’s what triggers board action.

As for why Wetselaar was allowed to treat patients during his federal drug trial, Couisneau said:

“Felony counts … are simply viewed as allegations, and until there’s a conviction, it’s not appropriate for us to potentially sanction or discipline a licensee.”

He acknowledged that in certain cases, a licensee’s status could be changed to inactive pending the outcome of the criminal case.

But the board “didn’t feel it was appropriate” in Wetselaar’s case, Cousineau said.

Wetselaar, who was taken into custody after his convictions, is not the only doctor in Nevada to be charged with a felony and still allowed to practice. A Reno doctor who is detained pending trial on similar drug charges likewise still has an active license.

Amid a statewide crackdown on doctor pill mills, Dr. Robert Rand of Reno was indicted in May on a number of federal drug charges, including one alleging he prescribed a dose of oxycodone so potent it resulted in a patient’s death.

“If he wasn’t incarcerated, it might be something we discussed,” Coisineau said.

In February, the board filed an administrative complaint against Rand. Coisineau said the complaint was the result of an administrative investigation, and the allegations against Rand are separate from the criminal accusations.

DOCTORS AS DEFENDANTS

Aside from Wetselaar and Rand, the following doctors who have faced state or federal charges still are licensed to practice:

— Dr. Mane Shah, a Las Vegas internist. Shah is scheduled to stand trial next year on charges that he sexually assaulted a 68-year-old patient in 2012. His license is active, and the Board of Medical Examiners has not initiated any formal disciplinary action against him. He is not in custody.

— Dr. Jorge Burgos, a North Las Vegas internist. Burgos pleaded guilty this year to multiple lewdness charges after he was accused of inappropriately touching multiple patients. His license is active, and the board has not initiated any formal disciplinary action against him. He is not in custody.

In other cases, doctors have been convicted of felonies and served prison sentences. But they have faced only brief suspensions from the Board of Medical Examiners. A review of public records found the following cases:

— Dr. Michael Kaplan, a Henderson urologist. In 2014, Kaplan was convicted by a federal jury of conspiracy to commit adulteration after he performed prostate biopsies with reused rectal needle guides intended for one-time use. Kaplan gave up his urology practice after his conviction. His license was suspended in 2011, but he currently is licensed to practice.

— Dr. Joel Washinsky pleaded guilty to drug charges in 2010. His license was suspended the same year, after the medical board’s investigative committee found that “due to Dr. Washinsky’s continuing use of opiates without a prescription from a physician … a summary suspension of Dr. Washinsky’s medical license is necessary to remove the risk of imminent harm to the health, safety and welfare of the public.” A later complaint indicated that he “received large quantities of controlled substances … and distributed them to his brother and possibly others.” But his suspension was terminated in 2014 after he paid a $4,700 settlement to the board. His license is active again.

— Las Vegas surgeon Mark Kabins reached a settlement agreement with the medical board in 2010 that allowed him to keep practicing after he was convicted of a felony in a sweeping federal fraud investigation that targeted area doctors and lawyers. Kabins negotiated a plea deal with the government that allowed him to avoid more serious charges that he engaged in fraud to avoid being sued for malpractice. Kabins was required to pay $8,000 to the board and donate $5,000 to charity as part of the settlement agreement.

Two doctors who faced charges have had their licenses revoked, but not until their convictions.

— Dr. Victor Bruce’s license was revoked in December 2014, after he was sentenced to prison for unlawfully writing oxycodone prescriptions. If the Las Vegas doctor complies with his professional probation, his license could be reinstated this year, according to the terms of his agreement with the board.

— Dr. Mahesh Kuthuru’s license was revoked in June, six months after the Henderson physician was sentenced to prison for unlawful distribution of prescription painkillers.

Two doctors who faced felony charges voluntarily surrendered their licenses. Former Las Vegas doctor Sebastian Paulin Jr., who made over $1.3 million selling painkiller prescriptions, surrendered his license in 2012, three years before the conclusion of his criminal case. Former Las Vegas physician Vinay Bararia, whose license was suspended after his arrest on drug charges, surrendered his license in 2013.

GOVERNOR-APPOINTED BOARD

The state Board of Medical Examiners is a public body composed of nine governor appointees who serve four-year terms. Six must be practicing physicians. The board operates on fees, and does not receive taxpayer funding.

“The Board responds with expediency to complaints against all our licensees by conducting fair, complete investigations that result in appropriate action,” its website states. The website’s “about” section also states: “The Board will place the interests of the public before the interests of the medical profession.”

When asked whether he thinks the medical board adequately protects the public, executive director Couiseneau said: “A licensee has due process rights. … If the case hasn’t been adjudicated, the charges are just accusations, nothing more.”

Contact Jenny Wilson at jenwilson@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.

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