Judge says he will likely accept Weinberger plea
By Teresa Auch Schultz email@example.com/648-3120 July 23, 2012 11:41AM
Updated: August 25, 2012 6:08AM
Former Merrillville nose doctor Mark Weinberger pleaded guilty Monday morning for the second time to 22 counts of health care fraud, and U.S. District Judge Philip Simon told him that this time would likely be the last.
“I’m virtually certain I’m going to accept the plea agreement,” Simon said at the end of the change of the plea hearing at the U.S. District Court in Hammond.
Weinberger, who wore his hair slicked back into a short ponytail at the base of his neck Monday, had previously pled guilty as part of plea agreement that called for Simon to sentence Weinberger to four years in prison. However, Simon rejected that agreement in April 2011, citing concerns that it did not fully take into account all the fraud that Weinberger possibly committed.
It appeared Weinberger was headed for trial after both sides reported last year that they could not come to an agreement, but the new agreement was announced Friday.
The new one sets a binding limit of 10 years on Weinberger’s sentence. If Simon were to not agree with that limit, Weinberger would have the chance to revoke his guilty plea.
A 10-year sentence would be six years longer than the first agreement called for. However, the government is arguing that Weinberger should be sentenced in a range of 46 to 57 months, which is right around the four years called for in the first agreement.
Weinberger has reserved the right to argue for a sentence of about two and half to three years.
Weinberger admitted to Simon Monday that he had fraudulently billed insurance companies in each of the 22 counts he was originally charged with. However, he did object to some of the statements Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Berkowitz made about his crimes, noting only that he admits he lied in each case.
“If this plea agreement is rejected and I have to go to trial, I have to be very careful about what I say,” Weinberger told Simon.
Weinberger gained national attention after he fled the country in 2004 on the heels of numerous complaints by his former patients who said he had not performed the surgeries he claimed to. Federal charges followed in 2006 in which prosecutors claimed he had lied about work he had performed on 22 patients.
He was finally arrested in December 2009 in northern Italy and extradited back to the states.
His new plea agreement calls for him to pay restitution to the insurance companies he fraudulently billed and to the patients for any money they spent as his medical practice was wound up by a trustee.
These new monetary claims are on top of several civil claims that he has to pay, including $13 million that a Lake County jury awarded to the family of one of Weinberger’s former patients who died from cancer. The jury found that he should have detected the cancer and didn’t.
Weinberger’s federal attorney, Vivaldis Kupsis, said Monday that he was not involved in the civil cases. However, he said that he does expect Weinberger will be able to pay the criminal restitution.
“Dr. Weinberger is an intelligent guy,” he said. “I expect him to still lead a productive life.”
The agreement also specifies that Weinberger will never practice as a medical doctor again and that he will not profit from selling his life story as a book, movie or other form of entertainment.
Kupsis said that was requested by the federal government and that he is not aware of any book deal.
Simon set sentencing for Oct. 12.