Judge rejects plea deal for fugitive nose doctor

April 27, 2011 2:42:06 PM PDT
An Indiana judge has rejected a plea deal in the fraud case of former Indiana surgeon Mark Weinberger. He was captured on a mountain in Italy after five years on the run.

Weinberger was scheduled to be sentenced to four years in prison on health care fraud charges based on that plea agreement. But, Wednesday morning, a federal judge in Hammond, Indiana, rejected the plea agreement in the insurance fraud case against the nose doctor.

Weinberger disappeared from his practice in 2004. He faced hundreds of malpractice suits and was later found hiding in the mountains of Italy.

"The citizens of northwest Indiana are blessed to have a judge like Phil Simon, who had the strength of character and wisdom to reject Weinberger's plea deal," said Kenneth J. Allen, who is representing civil plaintiffs.

Lake County Superior Court Judge Phillip Simon said he could not accept the plea agreement because he did not believe it took into account the full extent of Weinberger's criminal conduct.

The plea agreement would have bound the judge to sentencing the nose doctor to four years in prison, while the maximum sentence for the charges could add up to more than 200 years.

Prosecutors claim Weinberger submitted claims to insurance companies for performing surgeries he never did.

"We think justice was served today, and we hope to see him again in all the civil cases," said Allen.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Weinberger talked quietly to his lawyers after Judge Simon announced he would not accept the plea agreement.

Peggy Hood, whose sister, Phyllis Barnes , allegedly was misdiagnosed by the doctor and later died of throat cancer was in the courtroom.

"He looked so beaten down. I feel so good seeing him this way. I think orange suits him," said Hood.

Barnes' estate this year won a $3 million jury verdict against Weinberger in a wrongful death lawsuit

"It feels so good to know that he's not going to get out any time in the foreseeable future," Hood said. "I think everybody can rest easier knowing that. I think my sister would be pleased with the decision."

Weinberger withdrew his guilty plea. His attorneys moved to set the case for a trial.

"He thought he was too smart for everybody, and he thought he could get away with what he did," said David Cutshaw, who is representing civil plaintiffs.

"This will end with him in jail," said Allen.

A number of Weinberger's former patients have won lawsuits against him, claiming he performed unnecessary surgeries on them to feed his lavish lifestyle.

One of the prosecutors said the nose doctor had a $30 million practice before he fled to Europe.

There are almost 300 other cases yet to go on trial.