I-Team: Charges May Be Dismissed in Medical Mafia Case - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Chief Investigative Reporter

I-Team: Charges May Be Dismissed in Medical Mafia Case

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Self-described medical fixer Howard Awand is scheduled to go on trial next month, but it looks like it's not going to happen. Self-described medical fixer Howard Awand is scheduled to go on trial next month, but it looks like it's not going to happen.
The U.S. Attorney's Office entered a deal with both Awand and Noel Gage. The U.S. Attorney's Office entered a deal with both Awand and Noel Gage.

A visiting federal judge says he is prepared to dismiss all charges against the alleged ringleader of the so-called medical mafia conspiracy. Self-described medical fixer Howard Awand is scheduled to go on trial next month, but it looks like it's not going to happen.

Visiting Federal Judge Justin Quakenbush took the case after all of Nevada's federal judges bowed out because they feared they would have a conflict presiding over the prosecutions of Las Vegas attorneys.

As many as two dozen lawyers and doctors are believed to be targets of a massive FBI investigation, but the case took another hit Friday morning when the judge hinted he might dismiss everything against the central figure in the probe.

The FBI and federal prosecutors allege that consultant Howard Awand is the middleman in an ambitious conspiracy that raked in tens of millions of dollars from accident victims and legal clients, money that went instead into the pockets of high profile doctors and lawyers.

Awand, who reportedly bragged that he secretly works for the CIA, was the hub of an operation that connected injury victims and their doctors to certain lawyers. He used those relationships to raise piles of campaign cash and forge friendships with several Las Vegas judges.

Originally, prosecutors wanted to try Awand with attorney Noel Gage, the first two members of the self-described medical mafia to be indicted. But visiting Judge Justin Quakenbush split the cases, then tossed out many of the charges against Gage prior to trial. Then, after a hung jury, he dismissed the rest of the charges against Gage because the U.S. Attorney refused to grant immunity to a defense witness, Dr. Mark Kabins.

According to law enforcement sources, Kabins is one of the main targets of the four year investigation, so prosecutors say there is no way they would ever give him immunity to testify in defense of Noel Gage.

Attorneys for Awand seized the opportunity to obtain the same ruling. They filed motions saying they too wanted immunity for Kabins and if they don't get it, they want Awand's charges dropped.

Friday morning, Judge Quakenbush hinted that he is ready to do just that, which would be a major victory, not only for Awand, but for all of the other potential targets who are awaiting indictment.

But it's not the end of the matter by any means.

The U.S. Attorney's Office entered a deal with both Awand and Noel Gage. Prosecutors want to appeal the issue of immunity for Kabins to the Ninth Circuit Court. They argue that the government cannot be forced to grant immunity to a defense witness, especially a witness who is also a target.

It might take a year or more for the appeals court to issue a ruling, but if the prosecutors prevail, they will be able to try Awand and Gage together, which is what they wanted to do in the first place, and such a trial might be in front of a judge other than Quackenbush.

In the meantime, sources say, the investigation of other targets continues and there may still be additional indictments.

If you think this part is confusing, imagine what it's like for Las Vegas surgeons John Thalgott and Ben Venger. They volunteered to help the government by testifying against their colleagues.

Both have been raked over the coals, their practices have suffered and they face possible discipline by state medical officials. If the case dies here, it would mean the only people to be punished are the witnesses who offered to help.

The U.S. Attorney has until October 18, 2008 to file an appeal.

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