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US doc accused of fraud found on Italian mountain

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

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

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 left without paying and appeared to be 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 they had been vacationing on his 79-foot (24-meter) 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 her husband had been troubled by malpractice lawsuits before the trip. After he vanished, she learned he had purchased diamonds before leaving, withdrawn a large sum of money from his business and had taken survival gear that he kept at his Indiana clinic.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.

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 Instead, Cutshaw said, Weinberger performed outdated procedures that took as little as 24 minutes, enabling him to grind patients through his private surgery center as if they were on an assembly line.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 have sought medical reviews by physician panels, which in turn led to lawsuits seeking heavy damages, Cutshaw said.

Weinberger was indicted by a federal grand jury in Hammond, Indiana, in 2006 on 22 counts of fraud for allegedly concocting a scheme to overbill insurance companies for procedures that were either not needed or not performed.

Ken Allen, an attorney from Valparaiso, Indiana, called Weinberger’s capture “a dual blessing.” Allen represents about 50 former patients and the sister of a woman who died of throat cancer after Weinberger allegedly misdiagnosed her with a sinus infection.

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

It wasn’t immediately clear how Weinberger had spent the past five years or whether he had hired an attorney. Extradition details also weren’t known, and authorities said he was hospitalized.

Over the years, Weinberger left 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 without success.

Nearly a year after his disappearance, she said, someone paid off $10,000 on one of Weinberger’s credit cards. She believed it to be her husband.

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.

Falconi reported from Rome; Wilson from Indianapolis, Indiana.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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