HAMMOND | Accusing former Merrillville “Nose Doc” Mark Weinberger of using "his patients like an ATM," a federal judge sentenced the defendant to seven years in federal prison Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon accepted Weinberger’s guilty plea to 22 counts of health care fraud for billing the insurance companies of clients for medical procedures that were not performed.
Simon said he ultimately decided on the 84-month prison sentence — which is about twice what U.S. probation officials were recommending in the case — because of the magnitude of Weinberger's crimes.
Among the factors that increased Weinberger's sentence were that he abused his position of trust with his patients, fled the country to Europe in 2004 when his scheme began to collapse and left hundreds of patients and about 40 employees' livelihoods in his wake.
On Monday, Weinberger's attorney filed Hammond federal court documents asking a judge to sentence his client to time already served for 22 counts of health care fraud. On Friday, Weinberger was asking for 48 months in prison, a little more than year in addition to what he already has served in jail awaiting his federal criminal proceedings.
But that wasn’t enough for Simon, who issued the harsher sentence. Given the nearly 34 months that Weinberger already has spent in jail, he has more than half of his sentence still yet to serve.
Before Simon issued the sentence, Weinberger pleaded with the judge to "give me a chance to try" to make amends for his crimes.
"My behavior was bizarre, outrageous, inexcusable, stupid," said Weinberger, whose voice broke at times when addressing the judge.
"I lied. I stole. I betrayed a sacred trust. I have no excuse. There is no excuse."
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit from the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center, Weinberger's hair, which was buzzed down nearly to the scalp in a previous hearing, now was tied back into a small ponytail.
He entered the courtroom carrying a cardboard box of legal paperwork — evidence of his own meticulous attention to detail in his case, said Weinberger's attorney, Visvaldis Kupsis.
The Friday sentencing capped about six years of criminal filings in Weinberger’s case.
At times when Simon was detailing the sentence, Weinberger pressed his face into his hands.
Weinberger disappeared in 2004 — during a family trip to Europe — amid allegations by patients and remained at-large until December 2009, when Italian police caught him in a mountainside encampment. A grand jury indicted him in 2006 on 22 counts of health care fraud for sinus surgery procedures for which he is accused of billing patients’ insurance companies but not performing.