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HAMMOND | Mark "The Nose Doctor" Weinberger is set to face a federal jury Nov. 9 to answer health care fraud allegations.

But Weinberger's many alleged victims and the public may get a preview of his side of the story three months earlier in a Crown Point courtroom.

Weinberger, 46, who is pleading innocent to the 22-count criminal indictment lodged in U.S. District Court here, became the subject of an international manhunt after fleeing the country six years ago.

He disappeared following a meltdown of his medical practice, which he left beneath about $7 million in debt. Weinberger faces 357 civil malpractice claims, according to the Indiana Patients' Compensation Fund's website.

Federal grand jurors indicted Weinberger in December 2006 on charges he billed insurance companies for procedures he didn't perform. Authorities captured him in December when he was camping on an Italian mountainside.

Merrillville lawyer Barry Rooth, who represents William Boyer, a heavy-equipment operator living in Gary and one of many of Weinberger's former patients now suing him, said Weinberger is "admitting he was negligent, but denying his conduct was criminal."

Rooth said Weinberger may be forced into damaging admissions at his medical malpractice trial in August before Superior Court Judge Jeffery J. Dywan.

Rooth said Boyer paid $42,000 to have Weinberger treat a sinus ailment in 2003. Rooth is alleging Weinberger didn't perform the surgery he promised and instead "improperly punched a hole in (Boyer's) sinus, which caused problems he didn't have before the surgery."

Merrillville lawyer James Hough, who is defending Weinberger in the malpractice suit, didn't return a telephone call for comment.

In federal court, U.S. District Court Judge Philip P. Simon ordered Weinberger's criminal defense lawyer, Adam Tavitas, and the government to complete all pretrial preparations, including possible plea agreement negotiations.

Neither Mary Hatton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, nor Tavitas, would comment on whether any plea agreement is in the offing.

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