Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Photojournalist Matt Adams
I-Team: Medical Mafia Member takes Plea Deal
Dr. Mark Kabins
LAS VEGAS -- A prominent Las Vegas surgeon told a federal judge Monday he will plead guilty for his role in the so-called Medical Mafia conspiracy.
Dr. Mark Kabins' plea agreement marks the first conviction in a wide-ranging federal investigation. The alleged conspiracy involves some two-dozen Las Vegas lawyers and doctors.
On the surface, it looks like a sweet deal for Dr. Kabins, in that they are not recommending any prison time for him. But a closer look shows what a major development this is in the Medical Mafia case.
Dr. Kabins was charged along with attorney Noel Gage and so-called medical fixer Howard Awand in a medical malpractice conspiracy involving a patient named Melody Simon. But FBI agents think there's a much bigger conspiracy that may yield additional indictments.
The last time Kabins appeared at the federal courthouse, he was surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers who wouldn't let anyone near him. His defense attorney proclaimed that Kabins had done nothing wrong and would prove it in court.
This time, it was a much different scene. The army of lawyers didn't show. Dr. Kabins appeared forlorn and resigned to the fact that the life he knew is over.
Before a federal judge, Kabins agreed to plead guilty to a single count, misprision of a felony, which means he admits he knew about federal crimes being committed by others but did not report them. In actuality, Kabins admitted to a lot more than that.
In the facts of the case, which he had to acknowledge, Kabins admitted that he is guilty, that he conspired with Noel Gage and Howard Awand to avoid a malpractice suit against Kabins in the case of Melodie Simon, who became paralyzed after undergoing an operation. Kabins admits that he asked Awand to cut a deal with Gage to sue someone else for the operation. In exchange, he says, Awand promised to send lucrative personal injury cases to Gage in the future.
This admission by Kabins essentially confirms what the government has said about the Medical Mafia case from the beginning -- local doctors and lawyers cut deals like this, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, without letting their injured clients know about them.
Defense attorney David Chesnoff says the plea deal does not compel Kabins to testify against anyone else. "He's not cooperating by way of this plea. He is not acknowledging medical malpractice or that he engaged in any kind of fraudulent conduct. And basically he needed closure," he said. "For most people, the idea of going to jail is very frightening, and especially if you are not in the criminal world. And here is a fantastic surgeon and we were able to negotiate a plea that guarantees that he doesn't go to prison without him co-operating against others. He's taking his lumps himself."
But it's still unclear if he'll have to testify. "If he gets subpoenaed, just like any other citizen, he will have all the rights any other citizen has and we will deal with it as the time comes," said Chesnoff.
The U.S. Attorney Office says the plea deal does, in fact, specify that Kabins will not be allowed to take the fifth if he is called to testify against Gage and Awand, which is a virtual certainty.
Kabins told the government that Gage and Awand conspired together to rig the Melodie Simon case and to work together in the future.
So far, it appears Kabins will not face prison time. A final sentencing is set for January. At present, the deal calls for six months of supervised custody or house arrest, a fine of up to $250,000, $3.5 million in restitution to Melodie Simon and possible community service. It seems likely that state medical authorities could seek sanctions as well, though when it comes to Nevada's medical board, it's hard to make a prediction.
U.S. Attorney Dan Bogden said in a statement, "Dr. Kabins acknowledged that he used Awand to corruptly influence Gage… and that he concealed the crime that Awand and Gage thereafter committed."
Both sides will be putting their own spin on the outcome of the plea deal, but keep in mind, this is mostly about a single medical malpractice case.
There are dozens of others the FBI has been investigating. Dr. Kabins played a role in scores of them and he could very well be called to testify, assuming other indictments are handed down, even though this deal doesn't spell it out.
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