Dr. Dipak Desai is an American success story, an immigrant from India who built a small medical empire in the desert of Southern Nevada.
Now an aspect of that success is under scrutiny after health officials have determined that six patients treated at Desai’s Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada were infected there with hepatitis C, a potentially lethal blood-borne virus. Investigators believe they became infected when workers used contaminated syringes and vials when injecting patients with medication.
Desai, a doctor in Nevada since 1980, is 65 percent owner of the center, according to Las Vegas city business license records. Three other doctors share ownership, with Dr. Eladio Carrera having the next largest stake with 14 percent, according to the records.
Desai has not commented publicly.
Government records show he owns pieces of other medical practices in the valley, including the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada, which has multiple locations, and Spanish Hills Surgical Center in southwest Las Vegas.
According to the Gastroenterology Center’s Web site, Desai graduated from medical school at Gujarat University in India and completed his medical residency at Catholic Medical Center in New York. He founded the center in 1980.
A symbol of his success can be seen in the four-bedroom, 8,724-square-foot house in Red Rock Country Club that he and his wife bought in June 2004 for $3.4 million. The home has a pool, spa and two fireplaces.
"I wasn’t born rich, and sometimes you have to give something back to the society in which you live," Desai said in a 1992 Review-Journal story about local doctors providing free treatment to striking Frontier Hotel workers.
That success has also allowed Desai to be a generous political campaign donor through the years.
The registered Republican has given nearly $25,000 to federal candidates and committees going back to 1997. Like many business people, he has given to Democrats and Republicans alike, even opponents in the same race.
Desai has given to Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Republican Don Chairez, who tried to unseat her; President Bush’s campaign and Al Gore’s; Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
Contributions from corporations are not allowed at the federal level, but they are at the state level. A practice founded by Desai, the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada, has been giving to candidates since 1998, according to information compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
In 2004, the center gave $25,000 to the Keep Our Doctors In Nevada tort-reform ballot initiative, a measure aimed at curbing malpractice rates.
In 2006, the center donated funds to several candidates including Gov. Jim Gibbons and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Gibson.
A political operative who spoke on condition of anonymity said Desai was one of many foreign-born physicians who sought prominence through political giving. Desai had become less active and visible at political events in recent years.
"Some of these guys become financially successful and attain a certain professional stature, but what’s missing is they don’t have recognition and respect outside their somewhat closed community," the operative said. "To be able to have (an elected official) shake your hand and call you by name somehow completes things for them."
The access attained in this way doesn’t typically come with political influence, the operative said.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2919. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or (702) 383-0281.