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August 25, 2019

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Ex-doctor in Las Vegas hepatitis C case dies in prison custody

Desai Hearing

Sam Morris

Dr. Dipak Desai appears in court for a competency hearing Friday, Jan. 27, 2012.

Updated Tuesday, April 11, 2017 | 3:38 p.m.

A once-prominent Las Vegas physician who was convicted of murder and 26 other charges in the largest hepatitis outbreak in Nevada history has died in prison custody, a state corrections official said Tuesday.

Dipak Kantilal Desai was 67 when he died late Monday at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, prisons spokeswoman Brooke Keast said.

He had been transferred April 2 from the medical facility at Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City. An autopsy was scheduled to determine a cause of death.

Desai's lawyer, Richard Wright, maintained for years that Desai was in such poor health after several strokes that he was unfit for trial on criminal charges stemming from the outbreak.

State and federal prosecutors branded Desai a malingerer who tried to con psychiatrists and physicians to avoid the consequences of egregious criminal and financial crimes.

Wright didn't immediately respond Tuesday to messages.

The outbreak occurred in 2007, but it became public in early 2008 when health officials notified 63,000 former Desai clinic patients to get tested for potentially fatal blood-borne diseases. Within months, regional health investigators linked at least nine and as many as 114 cases of hepatitis C to Desai clinics.

Desai was convicted of causing the death of one patient and blamed, but not charged, in the death of another.

He was sentenced in July 2013 to 18 years to life in state prison on charges that included neglect of patients and insurance fraud. He was serving a nearly six-year concurrent federal prison sentence after pleading guilty before trial to health care fraud and conspiracy.

Prosecutors said Desai, a former member of the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners, bragged about the number of patients he handled at his southern Nevada endoscopy clinic practice where penny-pinching was a mantra.

State court jurors were told that incurable hepatitis C spread when vials of anesthesia were reused on multiple patients during outpatient procedures.

The case spawned dozens of lawsuits, and several jury findings held drug manufacturers and the state's largest health management organization liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs.

It also led to convictions for Desai's former clinic chief, who pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, and two nurse-anesthesiologists. One pleaded guilty to felony charges, and the other stood trial with Desai.

Desai agreed in 2014 to repay $2.2 million to insurance companies and the federal government. But he had given up his medical license and declared bankruptcy when the outbreak became public.