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Signs seemed to show US doc was preparing escape

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The signs seemed to point to a man preparing to escape.

Mark Weinberger had purchased diamonds, withdrawn a large sum of money from his business and packed up survival gear that he kept at his Indiana surgery clinic before disappearing more than five years ago amid mounting charges of fraud and malpractice, his wife has said.

Now Weinberger, 46, is in custody in an Italian hospital, after he was arrested as he hid on a snowy mountain in northern Italy and stabbed himself in the neck as he was taken into custody.

His wounds were not life-threatening and would not require surgery, officials at the Molinette hospital in Turin said Friday. Weinberger, who was being treated at the hospital’s prison ward, was undergoing more medical checks, and it was not clear when he would be discharged.

The long ordeal of this Merrillville, Ind., doctor ended this week on a mountain in northern Italy when he was apprehended by police in Val Ferret, authorities in the tiny town of Aosta said. A mountain guide tipped off authorities that he was there, living in a tent, police official Guido Di Vita said.

Another guide who helped police find Weinberger said Friday he had noticed ski traces and followed them until they saw man standing outside a tent near a cliff. He said it was strange to see someone camping in the area during this time of year because temperatures are below zero.

The guide, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said Weinberger appeared confused when the police approached him and did not seem to understand Italian well. But Weinberger did have the gear needed to trek in the snowy mountains including high-tech shoes and a sleeping bag as well as a camping stove to melt the snow, he said.

It wasn’t clear how long Weinberger had been in Italy, or if he had retained an attorney there. No other details were immediately available.

“I am delighted that Mark Weinberger has been apprehended. His actions and cowardice have adversely affected the lives of many people. I knew that with the media exposure and his propensity to live ostentatiously that it would be a matter of time before he resurfaced.

The mystery surrounding Weinberger, who was known as the “Nose Doctor,” began 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.

On Friday, his wife, Michelle Kramer, said she was contacted by “America’s Most Wanted” after his capture was reported in Italian media. She said she was confident he would be brought to justice.

“I am delighted that Mark Weinberger has been apprehended. His actions and cowardice have adversely affected the lives of many people. I knew that with the media exposure and his propensity to live ostentatiously that it would be a matter of time before he resurfaced,” Michelle Kramer said in a statement read to The Associated Press. After his disappearance, she filed for divorce and now lives in Birmingham, Ala., where she went to work this fall as an intern in a psychology program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Weinberger’s patients in the United States, who have been waiting for years to tell a court they believe the doctor misdiagnosed them, botched surgeries or hastily performed the wrong procedures, hoped his capture will mean their lawsuits can finally go forward.

“We want him … to look these people in the eye and explain why he did this,” said Kenneth J. Allen, who represents around 60 families accusing Weinberger of negligence.

Merrillville attorney James Hough, who represents Weinberger, said Friday he hadn’t been in contact with his client since he disappeared five years ago. He said there were about 300 claims filed by patients against the physician, but declined to comment further.

The longer he was gone, the more patients came forward. As they told it, his clinic seemed posh, his medicine elite and convenient. He promised patients $40,000 modern sinus surgeries that should have taken up to two hours, but instead performed outdated procedures that took as little as 24 minutes, enabling him to grind patients through his surgery center as if they were on an assembly line, said attorney David Cutshaw of Indianapolis, whose firm represents more than 100 former patients.

Jennifer Brouillette and her husband both went to Weinberger after seeing ads for his classy surgery center on billboards. Brouillette, 45, said she was blown away by the luxuriousness of the building — cherry wood, fine furniture, a CT scanner in the office.

That good impression quickly faded after a 20-minute surgery that was supposed to last three hours, she said. The results didn’t live up to expectations and the procedures cost $70,000. Then Weinberger vanished before her husband’s follow-up checkup. A CT scan performed by another doctor showed little sign that anything had been done, she said.

“We’re pretty angry. … It’s like he abandoned us and took off,” she said.

Lawsuits piled up, and Weinberger was indicted by a federal grand jury in Hammond, Ind., in 2006 on 22 counts of fraud for allegedly scheming to overbill insurance companies for procedures that were either not needed or sometimes never performed. But even as the court case against him grew at home, his whereabouts remained a mystery.

A U.S. treaty with Italy requires extradition proceedings to begin within 40 days, Allen said. Federal prosecutors are working to request Weinberger’s extradition, said David Capp, acting U.S. attorney for Indiana’s Northern District.

Capp said proceedings to extradite Weinberger could take a year or more. However, Allen said, if Weinberger waives extradition, he could be returned to the U.S. as soon as February or March.

Falconi reported from Rome, and Wilson reported from Indianapolis. Associated Press Writers Don Babwin in Valparaiso, Ind., and Michael Tarm in Chicago and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala. contributed to this report.

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

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