ROME – 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Mark Weinberger had purchased diamonds, withdrawn a large sum of money from his business and packed up survival gear that he kept at his Indiana surgery clinic before disappearing more than five years ago amid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 former 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 and the mountain is covered in snow.
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 and boxes of tuna.
It wasn't clear how long Weinberger had been in Italy, or if he had retained an attorney.
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.
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.
He had been troubled by malpractice lawsuits before the trip, his wife, Michelle Kramer, told CNN's Larry King in August 2005. She described her discovery of the apparent preparations to flee after he vanished.
She has since 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. She did not respond to numerous messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
He could have been anywhere. He had built a glamorous life after opening his Indiana clinic, acquiring yachts, vacation properties and private jets, she said. He was an excellent doctor, she said, but 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," she said.
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, and she and her husband both had to consult other doctors. 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 United States as soon as February or March.