AOSTA, ITALY | Federal prosecutors are working on the flood of paperwork required to request the extradition of former Merrillville physician Mark Weinberger, who was found this week camping at the foot of a mountain in Italy, said David Capp, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana.
Prosecutors are working with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs, which will "coordinate the mechanics with the Italian authorities," Capp said. But even though the U.S. has an extradition treaty with Italy, the process will take time, Capp said.
He estimates the local paperwork will take another 10 days, and extradition proceedings can take more than a year.
The FBI on Thursday confirmed that a man arrested Tuesday by Italian authorities is the 46-year-old Weinberger, who has been on the run for more than five years.
Weinberger was released this afternoon -- this morning in Central time -- from an Aosta hospital, where he was treated after allegedly cutting himself, and taken to a detainee section of a hospital in Turin, pending an international capture order, said Col. Guido Di Vita, of Italy's Arma dei Carabinieri, or Corps of Carbineers, a national police force akin to the FBI.
Weinberger, a sinus specialist from Merrillville who earned the moniker "The Nose Doctor," is scheduled to be questioned by Turin's appeal court magistrate, Di Vita said.
Authorities believe the former physician likely was trying to make his way into Switzerland when he was apprehended at a camp site some 6,000 feet above sea level at the foot of Val Ferret near Mont Blanc in the Aosta Valley in northern Italy, Di Vita said. Authorities identified Weinberger from documents and papers he carried, Di Vita said.
Weinberger's apprehension comes more than five years after he failed to return from a family trip to Greece and left behind the Merrillville Center for Advanced Surgery LLC and Nose and Sinus Centers LLC, which he operated between November 2002 and 2004.
The subject of a federal investigation, Weinberger in 2006 was indicted by a federal grand jury seated in Hammond and charged with 22 counts of health care fraud.
Federal prosecutors said Weinberger, under the ruse of performing costly sinus surgery, would put clients under anesthesia and then not perform the surgery. He then would bill insurance companies for the expensive procedures, according to the indictment.
Weinberger, who has been featured on the TV show "America's Most Wanted" twice, has been the focus of hundreds of civil lawsuits across Northwest Indiana that allege malpractice.
In at least one case, the scheme resulted in death as Weinberger diagnosed a Valparaiso woman for sinus problems instead of discovering her advanced throat cancer, according to a lawsuit. The delay cost the woman her life, the lawsuit alleges.
Kenneth Allen, a local personal injury lawyer who has filed about 50 lawsuits against Weinberger, said his clients look forward to seeing the physician return to the U.S. and be "held accountable for the harms that he's caused."
Merrillville-based lawyer Barry Rooth echoed those sentiments. Rooth has filed almost 300 lawsuits, and said he was pleased with the news of Weinberger's capture.
Italian authorities were alerted to Weinberger's camp site by a mountain guide, said the Arma dei Carabinieri's Di Vita, who believes Weinberger may have been at that location for three or four days. Authorities then searched the mountainous area with a helicopter before moving in on ground, he said.
When authorities approached the tent, the man later identified as Weinberger was inside, Di Vita said. Authorities questioned Weinberger as to why he was camping at a time of year when no one does.
Di Vita said the man replied, "I want to live the wild life."
After he was taken to the Courmayeur Carabinieri office for questioning, Weinberger admitted to his identity, told authorities he came from Monte Carlo and had spent time in Switzerland, Di Vita said.
Before a scheduled transfer to the Carabinieri's Aosta office, Weinberger used the bathroom and cut himself in the neck with a box cutter-like knife he had hidden away, Di Vita said. Weinberger never lost consciousness after suffering the injuries, and his life is not at risk, the Carabinieri commander said.
Weinberger's time in the Aosta Valley -- in the northwestern-most region of Italy -- dates back to the summer, when he rented an apartment in the town of Courmayeur, authorities said. Di Vita said Weinberger's arrival in a fancy car with Monte Carlo license plates and accompanied by a driver drew some notice in the town of about 3,000 people.
In August, Weinberger stopped paying rent and disappeared, Di Vita said. Authorities are investigating where Weinberger spent the time in between, Di Vita said.
Published reports show that a personal computer and a cell phone were found in the residence.
In 2004, Weinberger's wife said the two had been vacationing on his 79-foot powerboat in Mykonos, Greece, and she woke up to find her husband gone. Michelle Kramer, who filed for divorce after the disappearance, told CNN's Larry King in August 2005 that Weinberger had been troubled by malpractice lawsuits before the trip. After he vanished, she learned he had bought diamonds before leaving, had withdrawn a large sum of money from his business and had taken survival gear that he kept at his Indiana clinic.
He could have been anywhere: He'd acquired yachts, vacation properties and private jets after he opened his surgery center, she told King.
Times staff writers Dan Hinkel and Chris Keller and The Associated Press contributed to this report.