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HAMMOND | Merrillville defense attorney Adam Tavitas met for the first time Tuesday at Porter County Jail with his new client, former mountain-dwelling international fugitive Mark Weinberger.

"Obviously, I've heard of this case, but I'd never really taken a look at it until I officially got the appointment," Tavitas said.

Weinberger, 46, told Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry in Hammond federal court Monday he couldn't afford a lawyer to defend him against 22 federal fraud counts, and Cherry agreed to appoint a federally funded attorney. The Federal Community Defenders' branch office in Hammond employs a few defenders, but the court also draws from a pool of private attorneys who take judges' appointments to help represent federal defendants who can't afford to hire lawyers.

Tavitas is one of those private defense attorneys. He has been practicing law locally for about 15 years, he said. Tavitas graduated from law school at Indiana University in Bloomington. He has defended high-profile defendants including Hammond serial killer David Maust and the jailed former executive director of the Gary Urban Enterprise Association, Jojuana Meeks.

Tavitas will represent Weinberger on Thursday at a detention hearing. Cherry will decide at the hearing whether Weinberger could be released on bond pending trial. Prosecutors are asking for Weinberger's continued detention

Weinberger was captured on an Italian mountainside Dec. 15, 2009, 5 1/2 years after he disappeared on a family trip to Greece. A guide on the mountain tipped off authorities the former doctor was living in a tent with high-tech survival gear. Weinberger was taken to a hospital after he stabbed himself in the neck with a knife he had hidden while he was being arrested.

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When Weinberger vanished in 2004, he left his Merrillville sinus clinic buried beneath some $7 million in outstanding debts. Weinberger still faces 357 civil malpractice claims, according to the Indiana Patient Compensation Fund's Web site.

Weinberger faces severe potential civil damages, but it was the 22-count criminal indictment issued in Hammond federal court that led to his arrest. Federal grand jurors indicted Weinberger in December 2006 on charges he billed insurance companies for procedures he didn't perform.

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