CRNA Defendant In Hepatitis C Murder Case Pleads Guilty

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Keith Mathahs, 76, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) charged in the 2007 Las Vegas area hepatitis C outbreak, pleaded guilty December 10 in Clark County District Court to five reduced criminal counts, including criminal neglect of patients resulting in death, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit racketeering. The plea comes as a result of Mathahs accepting a plea deal which includes him testifying against his co-defendants, Dr. Dipak Desai and Ronald Lakeman, CRNA. The three were charged with multiple felonies in a 21 count grand jury indictment and also charged with second degree murder when one infected patient later died.

Apparently concerned any guilty conviction on the charges as they stood would essentially result in a life sentence for the aging anesthetist, Mathahs cut a deal where he will now face a maximum of 28 to 72 months in prison, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Staudaher, the lead prosecutor in the case. Sentencing will not take place until after Mathahs testifies in the trial of the other defendants, set for April 22 of next year.

Mathahs and Lakeman had rejected plea deals before the murder indictment. By pleading guilty Mathahs avoids punishment on the murder charge, which prosecutors agreed to dismiss. Defense lawyer Michael Cristalli said he will argue for probation for Mathahs at sentencing. “We feel good about the plea negotiation,” Cristalli said. “We think it’s a fair negotiation.” The intense public interest, as well as having to be tried with Desai, the central figure in the hepatitis outbreak, would have “presented extreme difficulties in achieving an acquittal across the board,” Cristalli said.

Lakeman’s lawyer, Rick Santacroce, said he was “surprised” Mathahs accepted the deal. “He’s almost 77 years old. He’s looking at the potential for a long time in prison,” Santacroce said. He went on to say that no agreement with prosecutors has been reached with Lakeman.

Richard Wright, who is defending Desai, declined to comment.

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