HAMMOND | A settlement agreement has been reached in the class action lawsuit stemming from the collection of debts on behalf of missing Merrillville sinus doctor Mark Weinberger.

"The settlement is as much as anybody could hope to get," Crown Point attorney Robert E. Stochel, who represented the class in the suit, said.

Michele Weiss, a former patient of Weinberger's, filed suit in November 2004 on behalf of other patients. Weiss alleged she received a bill from Trustmark Recovery Services and Medical Billing -- both based in Munster -- for a sinus procedure performed by Weinberger that she did not owe to the doctor's office, Weinberger Sinus Clinic, 255 E. 90th Drive.

Stochel contends the patients had agreements with Weinberger to keep their bills under a certain amount, that they would pay only their insurance co-payment or that they wouldn't have to pay at all.

"People started receiving those bill, and they were stunned," Stochel said. "Some were for $50,000 and $60,000."

The proposed settlement is twofold and includes an agreement with Robert Handler (the court-appointed receiver for Weinberger's clinic) and Citibank that they will not pursue collection of the bills and with Trustmark, which will put $10,000 in a settlement fund for members of the class. Stochel said the most each could receive from that fund would be $75.

Handler, Citibank and Trustmark also will pay for a portion of the attorney fees incurred by the class.

"We are very pleased with the result," Stochel said.

"It was a lot of work. I must have spoken to over 200 people in November 2004. It consumed the month. I had patients crying and concerned about how they're going to be able to pay these bills."

Weinberger was reported missing in September 2004 by family members after he did not return home with them after a vacation in Greece. It later was discovered his business was more than $7 million in debt and had just $7,000 in assets. The clinic was placed in court-ordered receivership.

Since his disappearance, Weinberger became the subject of numerous malpractice lawsuits and his license was revoked by the state.

The clinic and its assets were sold for $3 million in a court-ordered auction in July 2005. It reopened to a group of orthopedic surgeons last month.