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Las Vegas doctor gets life sentence for hepatitis C outbreak

By Alexia Shurmur

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - A former doctor convicted of second-degree murder for infecting at least nine patients with hepatitis C was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday for his role in one of the largest U.S. outbreaks of the disease tied to a physician.

Dipak Desai, 63, who infected patients by re-using syringes at his Las Vegas endoscopy clinic, will be eligible for parole after 18 years under the sentence imposed by Clark County District Judge Valerie Adair.

"When a trust that a patient places in his or her physician is betrayed, I don't think there is a greater betrayal in our society," Adair said in sentencing Desai.

A jury in July found Desai guilty of 27 criminal counts including second-degree murder, insurance fraud, negligence resulting in substantial bodily harm and misdemeanor counts of theft and taking money under false pretenses.

The hepatitis C outbreak tied to Desai's clinic was first discovered in 2007, prosecutors said.

The second-degree murder charge stemmed from the 2012 death of infected patient Rodolfo Meana. He was 77, according to local media.

Authorities conclusively traced nine infections of hepatitis C back to Desai's clinic and found that another 105 people also may have been infected. Prosecutors said Desai was trying to save money by re-using syringes.

Desai's practice of endoscopy involved investigating patients' symptoms by looking inside their bodies using a flexible tube and camera.

"His concern was not for the patients themselves," Clark County District Attorney Steven Wolfson said in court. "Rather it was making as much money as he possibly could."

Michael Washington, 73, another infected patient who testified against Desai at his trial, died in August.

Also sentenced on Thursday was Dipak's assistant. Ronald Lakeman, 66, got between seven and 21 years in prison for his part in the outbreak.

Desai, who suffered a stroke after his conviction in July, did not make a statement at the sentencing. His attorney, Richard A. Wright, said Desai was unable to address the court due to complications from the stroke and had not received therapy while in custody.

The number of hepatitis C cases traced to Desai's clinic represents one of the largest ever outbreaks of the disease tied to a physician, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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