Wednesday 8 June 2011

The doctor who was called Dr. Nose

To be a fully licenced medical doctor, you have to be extremely bright. You have had to have undergone years of schooling in an approved medical school and been an intern in a hospital. Fortunately, society is extremely lucky because the doctors who practice medicine are competent and honest. But alas, some are not.

One such dishonest quack was Dr. Mark S. Weinberger of Merriville, Indiana an ear, nose and throat specialist known as the Doctor Nose" His patients' horror stories are many. Attorney David Cutshaw of Indianapolis, whose firm represents more than 100 of this quack’s former patients, said the doctor promised patients $40,000 modern sinus surgeries that should have taken up to two hours. Instead, Cutshaw claimed, Weinberger performed outdated procedures that took as little as 24 minutes, enabling him to grind patients through his private surgery centre as if they were on an assembly line.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. In one of those cases that went to court, Weinberger was ordered to pay $13 million to relatives of Phyllis Barnes of Valparaiso. Weinberger treated Barnes for sinus problems but didn't diagnose the advanced throat cancer that killed her.

In 2005, the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana revoked Weinberger's credentials to practice. Weinberger can petition to have his license reinstated, according to Indiana statute, but the decision on the request lies with the state board.

Weinberger was also 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.

Weinberger fled the country in 2004 so the mystery surrounding Weinberger began more than six years ago when he disappeared while travelling with his wife in Greece. He was the subject of an international search and his case was featured on "America's Most Wanted" in August 2009. His wife, Michelle Kramer, who filed for divorce after his 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 After he vanished, she learned he had purchased diamonds before leaving the U.S. and he had also withdrawn a large sum of money from his business. Further, he had taken survival gear that he kept at his Indiana clinic. His wife said at the time they had been vacationing on his 79-foot powerboat in Mykonos, a Greek island and she woke up to find him gone.

He finally ended up in the small Italian city of Aosta which is just on the other side of Mount Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain. Its population is approximately 35,000. It was founded by the Romans in 25 B.C. While he was there, he was living with a transgendered woman. After a while, he told her that he wanted to live alone on the nearby slopes so that he could think without being bothered by anyone. He spent months living in a small tent on the slopes.

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. He stabbed himself in the neck as he was taken into custody in December 2009. He was 46 years of age then. He was extradited from Italy to the United States in December 2009.

Merrillville's Dr. Mark Weinberger was facing 350 medical malpractice claims, as well as $5.7 million in creditor claims and 22 criminal counts of billing fraud, according to court documents. Weinberger fled the country in 2004 and His malpractice insurance carrier, Medical Assurance Company Inc., had been conducting his defense, but his disappearance prompted it to file the lawsuit, records show. Medical Assurance brought a declaratory judgment action in federal court, asking the court to rule that Weinberger breached his contracted responsibilities to participate in his defense. If affirmed, the company would no longer be required to defend Weinberger or carry out the policies written for him.

Medical Assurance that was his insurer was originally defending him while several malpractice claims were pending, but because he was no longer participating in the cases against him since he had disappeared, the insurer wanted to cover his losses. The court ruled that Weinberger's absence alone was not enough to prove that a breach of contract resulted in prejudice against the company. The appeals court did rule however that Medical Assurance could have its day in court without interfering with the pending state processes.

The quack entered a guilty plea in Hammond federal court October 22, 2010 to 22 counts of health care fraud.

Mark S. Weinberger, 47, traded his white coat for an orange prison jumpsuit after billing almost two dozen patients' health care providers for surgical procedures he did not do. The 22 counts each carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines, according to Chief Judge Philip Simon, but Weinberger struck a deal with prosecutors earlier this week for four years in prison.

The plea agreement also bars Weinberger for life from billing federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and requires any money made from book deals, movie rights or other efforts to profit from his story first go toward restitution.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Berkowitz estimated the amount of fraud at between $200,000 and $400,000. One of Weinberger's defense attorneys, Adam Tavitas, said he did not know if Weinberger had been offered any business deals in exchange for his story.

As is procedure, the plea deal is pending Judge Simon's approval. Simon said he would make a decision at Weinberger's sentencing hearing in January 2010 after studying the pre-sentence report by probation officers.

The Assistant U.S. Attorney said that between 2003 and 2004, Weinberger would put patients under anesthesia and fill out paperwork for surgical procedures he never did. Evidence at trial would have shown he could not have physically performed the procedures within the time frame listed on the medical reports, she said, and CAT scans of patients would show no work was done at all in many of the cases in which he was seeking payment from the Medicare and Medicaid.

Weinberger, an alumnus of UCLA's medical school, apologized for his actions during the hearing. He said, "I billed for surgeries that I did not perform. I received money as a result of those billings, and I'm very, very sorry." One of Weinberger's defense attorneys, Stephen Scheele said. "Obviously Mark has accepted responsibility for what he has done. As he indicated to the court, he's very sorry."

If Weinberger had been convicted and sentenced consecutively without the plea agreement deals, he could have faced more than 200 years in prison. There had been multiple meetings with prosecutors to discuss an agreement. His lawyer said after the hearing. "We believe it is a fair and reasonable sentence, and we hope the judge will accept the plea. Included as part of his plea, was that he be imprisoned for four years.

Meanwhile Weinberger has been held at Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center leading up to his October 22nd hearing.

On May 13, 2011, the former Merrillville nose doctor Mark Weinberger’s plea deal was rejected by a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Hammond. His case is now headed to trial after having his plea deal rejected. Both the defence and prosecution attorneys in the case agreed to schedule the trial for January 9, 2012. Meanwhile, Weinberger remains in jail.

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