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‘Nose doctor’ caught in Italy after 5 years

An American doctor on the run for five years from charges of fraud and malpractice is arrested while camping on a snowy mountain in northern Italy, police say.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An American doctor on the run for five years as charges of fraud and malpractice mounted against him at home was arrested as he was camping out on a snowy mountain in northern Italy, and stabbed himself in the neck as he was taken into custody, police said.

Mark Weinberger, 46, of Merrillville, Ind., was apprehended earlier this week on a mountain in Val Ferret, where he was living in a tent, police in the town of Aosta said Thursday.

Authorities were alerted to Weinberger's presence by a mountain guide, said police official Guido Di Vita. Weinberger had previously rented out an apartment in the area but then left without paying and was likely trying to sneak into Switzerland, Di Vita said.

The mystery surrounding Weinberger, who was known as the "Nose Doctor," began more than five years ago when he disappeared while traveling with his wife in Greece. He was the subject of an international dragnet, and his case was featured on "America's Most Wanted" as recently as August.

His wife said at the time that they had been vacationing on his 79-foot powerboat in Mykonos and she woke up to find him gone. Michelle Kramer, who filed for divorce after the disappearance, told CNN's Larry King in August 2005 that he had been troubled by malpractice lawsuits before the trip. After he vanished, she learned he had purchased diamonds before leaving, withdrew a large sum of money from his business and had taken survival gear that he kept at his Indiana clinic.

He could have been anywhere: He'd acquired yachts, vacation properties and private jets after he opened his surgery center, she told King.

Horror stories
As the disappearance stretched on, patients' horror stories multiplied. Attorney David Cutshaw of Indianapolis, whose firm represents more than 100 of Weinberger's former patients, said Weinberger promised patients $40,000 modern sinus surgeries that should have taken up to two hours. Instead, Cutshaw said, Weinberger performed outdated procedures that took as little as 24 minutes, enabling him to grind patients through his private surgery center as if they were on an assembly line.

Many of those patients are now seeking medical reviews by physician panels, which in turn could lead to lawsuits seeking unspecified economic and emotional damages, he said.

Weinberger was indicted by a federal grand jury in Hammond, Ind., in 2006 on 22 counts of fraud alleging he concocted a scheme to overbill insurance companies for procedures that were either not needed or sometimes never performed.

Ken Allen, a Valparaiso, Ind., attorney representing about 50 former patients and the sister of a woman who died of throat cancer after Weinberger allegedly misdiagnosed her with a sinus infection, called Weinberger's capture "a dual blessing."

"What these patients have all sought is to bring Dr. Weinberger to justice and for him to come to court and explain his misdeeds to them," Allen said.

Missing five years
It wasn't immediately clear how Weinberger had spent the last five years or if he had retained an attorney. Extradition details also weren't known, and authorities said he was hospitalized.

Over the years, there were some clues about his movements. His wife said in her interview with King that after Weinberger disappeared, she received credit card statements showing he had been in casinos in Monte Carlo and the south of France. She tried to track him down, with no success.

Nearly a year after his disappearance, she said, someone paid off $10,000 on one of Weinberger's credit cards. She believed it was Weinberger.

Kramer described Weinberger as "an excellent doctor" but said he had a "narcissistic personality disorder" and needed constant adoration and always wanted bigger conquests.

"I think that his fragile ego and the narcissism and onslaught of criticism that came from the lawsuits, just caused him to show, you know, cowardice and just turn tail and run basically," Kramer said.