tv Dateline MSNBC October 8, 2017 11:00pm-1:00am PDT
he professed his love in a poem. narrator: and a wonderful life. there was the mansion in chicago, the yacht in the mediterranean, and vacations anywhere they wanted to go. mark weinberger: michelle, you look beautiful. you look really, really beautiful. a successful surgeon. his practice pulled in a staggering million dollars a month. he would go on these spending sprees. he had three drivers on call. narrator: but then, on one of those exotic trips together, the doctor disappeared. was there a note of any kind? nothing. narrator: leaving behind his wife, his yacht, and some very angry people. ken allen: he is a very evil person. narrator: what had he done?
that was the worst night of my life. narrator: and what could his wife do now? i think he bought about maybe $500,000 worth of diamonds before he left. where did the diamonds go? with him i suppose? narrator: and who was this wealthy man of mystery now living in the italian alps? i don't think they have any idea of what's going to happen. [music playing] narrator: it had all the makings of a perfect fantasy, the perfect husband away with his perfect wife for her 30th birthday in the picture-perfect greek isles. the weather was perfect. the accommodations aboard their private, fully staffed 80-foot yacht, perfect. it was late september 2004, and with their mother and a few close girlfriends along to help the golden couple celebrate, michelle weinberger had every reason to believe she was living a perfectly charmed life
with the man of her dreams. then, as if suddenly doused with cold water, her dream ended. when i woke up in the morning at 7 a.m. with a horrible feeling in my stomach, he wasn't there next to me. and i put my hand on his side of the bed, and i remember feeling it empty. narrator: michelle says she darted from the bed and ran around the boat calling for her husband, mark. no answer. michelle weinberger: the captain told me that he went jogging. so i started jogging all up and down mykonos looking for him. and i just had this horrible feeling, which continued for the rest of that day. narrator: there was plenty of time to think in those anxious hours. was he dead, injured, kidnapped? was there gilded lifestyle about to end in tragedy? michelle weinberger: i really believed that he was my soul mate and he believed that too, and he was just the kindest, most gentle man i had ever met.
really a prince charming. absolutely. narrator: the night before he vanished, mark had seemed so happy, posing for a dinnertime picture with michelle and a friend. now he was gone. by mid-afternoon, michelle was a frantic ball of nerves. clearly, mark was not out jogging, as the yacht's captain had told her earlier that morning. so she demanded answers. michelle weinberger: the captain finally said, well i'm just going to tell you where he is now, because you are like on the brink of having a nervous breakdown. so i just want you to know that he bought some kind of a present for you in town, and he took a jet to paris to finish the present, and he's going to come back by the end of the day, before the sun goes down. narrator: that story didn't surprise michelle. for the past few days, mark had been acting like a man who is planning something big. he was always running and doing something, and i was kind of like, you know, this is our vacation, this is our time spend together. i would rather not have some big fabulous present,
and just have you lay with me by the pool, and not be sneaking around. and what did he say? and he said you never want to trust me about surprises, you really need to trust me, this is going to be huge. narrator: if michelle knew anything about her husband, it was that he was a born romantic who went all out for special occasions. it had only been five years since fate had brought mark weinberger into her life, changing it in ways unimaginable at the time. it all began with a ladies' night out at a chicago bar. michelle weinberger: i saw him in at a bar. he was out with his friend who had recently gotten divorced. and we just started talking, and we hit it off. i thought he was really intriguing. narrator: she was michelle kramer back then, a 25-year-old college student from a blue collar family, still living with her folks. mark weinberger, 11 years older, was already a very successful
ear, nose and throat doctor. we were bonding about medicine, because i had just gotten through doing a stint in neuroscience at university of chicago. so we were just making jokes about the medical milieu. and he was just very funny. so you hit it off, right off the bat? right, we went out to dinner. and it was on a thursday, and i spent thursday, friday, saturday, and sunday with him. and by monday, i was just enamored and smitten. narrator: within months, michelle had moved out of her parents' home and into mark's townhouse in chicago. the whirlwind was on, athens, miami, caribbeanunsets, and french champagne. mark weinberger: michelle, you look beautiful. narrator: for a southwest chicago girl whose father was a pipefitter, this was head turning stuff. narrator: i just want to say this is the best vacation ever. i love you, baby. narrator: her new love was a philosophy quoting, poetry writing renaissance man. michelle weinberger: he professed his love in a poem.
he just swept me off my feet. narrator: you had an unbelievable life. it really was, yeah. like, it was just so romantic when i first met him, and it was awesome. and then things just got like exponentially more outrageous as time went on. outrageously good? outrageously good, yeah. narrator: for instance, instead of simply popping the question to michelle, mark flew her to rome. he had a driver bring her to meet him at the piazza navona. once there, mark dropped to one knee and presented her with an enormous ring while a group of minstrels he'd hired for the occasion serenaded them. michelle weinberger: i was crying, and everybody in the piazza was clapping, and it was a beautiful moment. narrator: their wedding in 2001 was actually a three-act extravaganza. first, there was a small wedding in chicago's botanic garden, held solely for the purpose of allowing michelle's father, who was dying of cancer, to walk her down the aisle.
next, there was a lavish blessing ceremony in a 12th century villa on italy's amalfi coast. mark flew in a dozen guests from the states. then mark topped it all off by renting chicago's field museum and inviting 110 guests for another formal reception there. those were the memories that kept running through michelle's mind as she and her mother waited for mark to return. but when the sun set that night and mark had not returned as the captain had promised, michelle knew something was horribly wrong, but what? there were no reports of an accident involving mark, no signs of foul play, no ransom notes, only questions. was there a note of any kind? nothing. no message, nothing? i went through the boat like a crazy person, just tearing everything up, looking for something. and the only two things i found is 1,000 euros and my passport in a drawer.
narrator: after 24 hours of watching a hysterical michelle suffer, the yacht's captain gave her the number for a greek cell phone that mark been secretly using ever since they'd been on the yacht. michelle had no idea what would happen once she dialed that number, but she was desperate to hear her husband's voice. he answered rather happily at like 5 am, and he said hello. and i was in shock. and i said hello. and then he fumbled with the phone and he hung up. did he know it was you on the phone? oh, yeah. how did that feel? i was i was devastated. i felt like somebody punched me in the stomach. i couldn't understand why he would do that. narrator: as it turned out, michelle's husband had, as promised, given her a huge surprise all right-- he deserted her. for reasons she did not yet understand, michelle would have to return home alone.
she knew her life as she'd been living it was over. what she didn't know was that the devastation her husband had left behind went deeper than her own personal agony. and that the twisted tale of the runaway doctor would eventually lead to one of the unlikeliest places on earth. coming up, where was the doctor? and why had he abandoned his incredibly profitable medical practice? how many surgeries was he performing? on an average, within 15 to 22 a week. 15 to 22 surgeries, one man, every week. yes. in a good week, how much money do you think he took in? he was bringing in about a million dollars a month. narrator: when "dateline" continues.
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deserted his wife in september 2004 are half a world away from the rust belt region of northwest indiana where he made his fortune. mark weinberger was not from indiana. he didn't grow up on hoop dreams or the hope of a union job. in fact, he didn't even live here. according to pulitzer prize winning writer buzz bissinger, who consulted with "dateline" on this story, mark weinberger was a nerdy kid from a wealthy new york suburb, who was driven by sibling rivalry to outshine his brothers. mark figured, you know, the way to be the apple of my parents' eye is to do very well in school. he did very well in scarsdale high. he went to the university of pennsylvania, then went to ucla medical school, where he thrived. narrator: he could have established his ear, nose and throat medical practice anywhere, but in 1996 he chose merrillville, indiana. it was close enough to chicago that he could live here and have chauffeurs drive him one hour each way
to his office every day. but perhaps most important, he could count on the air pollution in northwest indiana to provide a steady stream of patients with sinus problems. suzette dennington: in northwest indiana, where you're breathing in the pollution, you've got high pollen and the extreme changes in the temperature, it's not unusual to see a high degree of patients who suffer from sinus problems. narrator: suzette dennington, weinberger's top medical assistant worked closely with him day in and day out. he was an excellent physician. what do you think motivated him? his desire to be the best at what he did. narrator: in 2000, weinberger began aggressively advertising himself as a sinus specialist. he billed himself as "doctor nose," and his practice grew rapidly. we could see 40 to 50 patients on an office day. out of those, 10 to 16 would be new patients. how many surgeries was he performing?
on an average, within 15 to 22 a week. 15 to 22 surgeries, one man, every week. yes. and you've worked in this business a long time. i mean, how busy is that compared to your average surgeon? huge. narrator: dennington says patients who walked into weinberger's clinic with anything from breathing problems to bad headaches were told that his sinus surgeries were an alternative to taking medications every day and had a 95% success rate. his technique was incredible. i've done sinus surgeries for 18 years, never saw the technique that he used, and it was-- the benefit to the patients was amazing. narrator: weinberger's business model it seemed was based on the three word slogan of salesmen everywhere, volume, volume, volume. i think he measured a certain amount of his worth by how many procedures he was doing. narrator: of course, the fact that nearly all of weinberger's patients seem to have the same problem
and require the exact same surgery greatly simplified things. a deviated septum and polyps. deviated septum, polyps. deviated septum and polyps. deviated septum and polyps. and what did the doctor recommend? surgery immediately. surgery. surgery, asap. narrator: as consistent as these former patients say weinberger was with his diagnoses, suzette dennington says he was quite flexible when it came to billing insurance companies. it all depended on the amount that the insurance company was willing to pay. it could be anywhere from about $1,500 to $16,000 per procedure. as much as $16,000 per procedure, 15 to 20 procedures a week. correct. in a good week, how much money do you think he took in. i do know that at one point, for the entire business, he was bringing in about a million dollars a month.
narrator: even a man with expensive taste, such as mark weinberger, could live large on a cash flow like that. and according to writer buzz bissinger, he did. at home, there were uniformed maids, a personal trainer, and a masseuse. he would go on these spending sprees, he lived in a $2-1/2 million condominium. he had three drivers on call by limo. narrator: who could have known in those first blissful days, as the music played and champagne flowed, how it would all end? certainly, not mark weinberger's new bride, michelle. a northwest indiana doctor's apparently on the run tonight, and he's left behind serious legal trouble. narrator: in the weeks and months after her husband left her in greece, michelle was bound and determined to find out why her husband had abandoned her. coming up, lying low, living large. he had apparently packed two huge suitcases full of water
filtration systems, gps equipment, language tapes, all types of bizarre things. i think he bought about maybe $500,000 worth of diamonds before he left. 500,000? mm-hmm. and where did the diamonds go? with him, i suppose. i didn't find out anything about diamonds until after he had left. narrator: when "dateline" continues. have you any wool?eep, no sir, no sir, some nincompoop stole all my wool sweaters, smart tv and gaming system. luckily, the geico insurance agency recently helped baa baa with renters insurance. everything stolen was replaced. and the hooligan who lives down the lane was caught selling the stolen goods online. visit geico.com and see how easy it is to switch and save on renters insurance. shatters the competition. hydrating skin better than prestige creams costing over $100, $200,
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in the weeks after her husband had abandoned her in greece, michelle examined every memory she had of mark weinberg. woman: she's the hostess and she is the mostest. narrator: turning each unreliable fragment over in her mind as if seeing recent scenes from her life for the first time. michelle weinberger: i have marky all to myself. yeah, marky. i'm captive here, help. michelle weinberger: yes, i'm holding him as a prisoner. narrator: none of it made any sense to michelle. hadn't they had it all-- money youth, even happiness? what on earth, she wondered, could have caused him just to chuck it all, without so much as a note of explanation? november 1st was our three-year anniversary, and was a bit of a turning point for me. but prior to that, i still believed wholeheartedly that he was going to send for me. and if he sent for me, i would have went with him. really? i would have, yes. and that day came and went with no phone
call, no letter, nothing. and that made me realize that i need to take care of myself, and try to get back on my own two feet. mark was still alive. she knew that, because even though she hadn't heard from him since that brief phone call in greece, credit card statements were still coming into their home in chicago. michelle weinberger: he's going to the biggest fashion houses across france and buying clothing. and he's at casinos. and you're back, and you can't even pay the water bill. michelle weinberger: right. and i'm sitting there crying every night, listening to our songs, you know, mourning his loss. and he's in the south of france. narrator: his credit card tally in the south of france alone added up to more than $50,000. since there's no law against disappearing, michelle couldn't really go to the authorities. it seemed the only people even interested in finding mark weinberger were his creditors.
but michelle wouldn't give up. on more than one occasion, michelle flew to europe in hopes of tracking down and confronting her husband. michelle weinberger: just me and a pair of handcuffs. i brought handcuffs because i figured that if he saw me, he might be freaked out. and i just wanted an explanation. narrator: she even came close one, arriving at a paris hotel just a day after weinberger had checked out. but back home, she still faced a growing pile of unpaid bills. mark had never allowed her to see the bills before or even have her own checking account. it's almost laughable in a way, when i get faxes from banks saying i owe $3.5 million, because i don't even have a concept in my head of what $3 million is. narrator: eventually, michelle learned that mark weinberger left her $6 million in debt. we first met michelle in february 2005, five months after her husband had vanished.
at that time, michelle's home was in foreclosure, and she had realized she had no choice but to file for divorce. i don't know how ready i am to say that i'm filing for divorce, but financially it's a necessity right now. so it's something that has to be done in order to try to separate myself from the debt that he's incurred. narrator: in october 2005, a little over a year after her husband literally jumped ship, michelle filed for bankruptcy. michelle weinberger: the person that i fell in love with, the person that i knew for five years, that person certainly was a soul mate and a best friend to me. this person, who would leave behind such devastation in his wake, i don't know who he is. narrator: with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, michelle told us she should have seen the signs of trouble coming. mark was sometimes distant. he could be rude, even abusive to people
he deemed his social inferiors. but the summer of 2004, a few months before mark disappeared, seemed to be the real turning point. michelle was pregnant. both of us could not have been happier at that moment. and those good feelings lasted for a couple weeks. and then i had to go to hawaii for an apa conference that i was presenting at. narrator: presenting at the american psychological association's conference that july was a prestigious honor for a grad student like michelle. michelle says even though mark begged her not to go, she went anyway. and things started to change while i was in hawaii. he called me and said that lawyers are claiming that he was doing unnecessary surgery, and he was afraid that it was going to become a class action suit. at which point, he jumped 10 steps ahead and assumed that his insurance company would settle,
his medical license would be taken away, and everything would be destroyed. narrator: so his life is flashing before his eyes. mm-hmm. narrator: one of those former patients now had terminal cancer, and she was suing him for not diagnosing it sooner. michelle says that for mark, the malpractice suit was more than just a blemish on his reputation, it was a blow to his vanity. and though michelle assured him of her love and support, she said she could feel her husband pulling away. and i knew that he was stressed out about the lawsuits, but i really believed in my heart that it was something that we could fight against. narrator: a few weeks later, it was michelle who was devastated and needed support when she suffered a miscarriage and had to be hospitalized. and he promised, he swore that he would be there before i went under anesthesia. and he insisted that he had to go into his office to take care of some things. and he didn't show up. and i was i was shocked.
narrator: whatever mark weinberger was doing in the office those days was also a mystery to employees like suzette dennington, weinberger's top medical assistant at the sinus clinic. he started being one of the first people to arrive in the office and one of the last people to leave every day. what was he doing in his office? i don't know. the door was closed. it was very quiet. we would have to knock on the door and let him know that there was another patient ready to be seen. he definitely withdrew. narrator: suzette says that wasn't the only strange thing going on that summer. suddenly shipments of camping gear began arriving at the weinberger clinic. one of his treatment rooms in one wing of the building that was full of camping equipment. i really don't see him as being much of a camper. he's more or four seasons hotel kind of guy. right. but he was almost frantically packing it up. what kinds of equipment did he have? there were several backpacks. there were just bags that were stuffed with things
that you couldn't see. narrator: and then there were this strange men with thick european accents that some employees reported seeing coming into the office with briefcases to meet privately with weinberger. michelle later learned those men were diamond dealers from new york. i think he bought about maybe $500,000 worth of diamonds before he left. 500,000? mm-hmm. and where did the diamonds go? with him, i suppose. i didn't find out anything about diamonds until after he had left. narrator: diamonds, light, fungible, and untraceable. just the kind of tip that's found in a book michelle discovered among mark's things after he left. michelle came to see that her husband had been planning his vanishing act for months. he had apparently packed two huge suitcases full of water filtration systems, gps equipment, language tapes, all types of bizarre things.
and he shipped one of the bags to conn and another bag to athens. narrator: a meticulous plan, perfectly executed. even though in hindsight, michelle now remembered how nervous he'd been on the day they flew to greece. he was yelling at everybody, and he's like i have to make this flight. and i'm like we're not late, we're not going to miss the flight. and he was just completely like uncontrollable in the airport. narrator: oddly enough, even knowing her husband had deliberately deceived, humiliated, and abandoned her, michelle continued to defend him. he was an excellent doctor. that's why it really infuriated me to see his name, you know, dragged through the mud. narrator: the real culprits, michelle felt, were former patients egged on by greedy lawyers who were suing him for malpractice. i think it's a bit opportunistic, but that's the state of our legal system in this country. that's what doctors have to face every day. how can you stand up for him now?
because i know how much he cared about his patients. in the end, i think that he was a very scared man. narrator: had it actually been one of those patients who caused mark weinberger to flee, forfeiting all he'd worked for? michelle was sure of it. she'd often heard mark mention the name of one of his former patients in the weeks and months before he left, a woman with terminal cancer. coming up-- ken allen: she had a cough that wouldn't go away, sore throat, hoarseness. these are things that a first-year medical student would recognize as signs and symptoms of throat cancer or laryngeal cancer. weinberger didn't pay attention. narrator: when "dateline" continues. i just want to find a used car without getting ripped off. you could start your search at the all-new carfax.com that might help.
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in winter, the skies over northwest indiana where dr. mark weinberger practiced medicine, usually have all the luster of wet cotton. but for weinberger and his wife michelle, late december 2001 was just another blue-sky caribbean holiday. mark weinberger: it's a beautiful day here at paraguay. narrator: it's perhaps good the happy couple couldn't see the future on a day such as this,
because there was so much unhappiness ahead. in three years, he would be on the run, somewhere in europe, and she would be alone, broken-hearted and bankrupt. of course, they had no way of seeing any of this coming, not here, not on this night. mark weinberger: new year's eve 2002. i've never been so happy in my whole life. this is my dream. narrator: but far to the north in indiana, one of dr. weinberger's patients, phyllis barnes, could clearly see her future was looking grim. my sister went through hell. narrator: phyllis' sister, peggy hood, says phyllis' road through hell began three months earlier when she went to see dr. weinberger. she had trouble catching her breath. she seemed to have sort of cold-like symptoms or bronchitis. she just seemed run down. you thought it might be allergies or a cold. yeah.
narrator: it could have been a number of things. her voice was raspy, she had a sore throat. but perhaps the most troubling symptom for phyllis, a lifelong smoker, was that she had recently begun coughing up blood. i believe that when she went to dr. weinberger she told him she was a smoker. i don't think she tried to hide that from anybody. how did she find out about mark weinberger? i believe one of her coworkers may have seen billboards. the "nose doctor." mm-hmm. narrator: in hindsight, going to the self-proclaimed "nose doctor" may have been a mistake. but since phyllis had had a long history of sinus problems, seeking out a sinus specialist for her breathing problems seemed logical. the first time i heard about him was when she called me up. she was going to have sinus surgery and she needed a ride to and from the surgery. narrator: dr. weinberger's diagnosis, sinusitis, nasal polyps, deviated septum, all problems he told phyllis that could be cured with surgery.
narrator: did your sister get better after the surgery? no, she got progressively worse after the surgery. narrator: by thanksgiving, just six weeks after her surgery with weinberger, phyllis barnes was gasping for breath. repeated follow-up visits to weinberger's clinic brought no relief. her family feared she might have pneumonia. sean barnes: i had to call the ambulance one night to have her taken to the emergency room because she couldn't breathe. narrator: sean barnes, phyllis' daughter, was only 16 at the time. she did end up pulling through, but it was a hard time to get through. within days of leaving the emergency room, phyllis was again gasping for breath. so in december 2001, she turned to another ear, nose and throat doctor for relief. the new doctor immediately suspected something serious. her breathing was ragged and a large lump was visible on the side of her neck.
he called me on my cell phone and he said he had just seen my sister, and he felt that she had possibly advanced cancer, and he had scheduled her for a biopsy. narrator: that biopsy quickly confirmed the doctor's hunch. at 47, phyllis barnes had stage four throat cancer. phyllis barnes: honey, i hope you find something worthwhile to do today. narrator: a lifelong do-it-yourselfer, phyllis barnes was now facing the biggest recovery and rehab project of her life. phyllis barnes: daniel, do not start standing there doing that to me. narrator: phyllis first came to northwest indiana from her native mississippi in the late '70s, after college. phyllis barnes: go away, dear, i'm busy. daniel burns: but i love you, phyllis. narrator: her sister peggy was already here, and it was here that she met her husband, daniel barnes, started a family, and began a career in social work, helping displaced steel workers.
it was a government agency that tried to help place people who had lost their jobs in this area. and she really liked that. narrator: a big part of that job involved public speaking. but by the time mark weinberger was popping champagne corks down in the caribbean that new year's eve, that part of phyllis' career was over. surgeons had taken drastic action to fight the advanced cancer in her throat. she ended up losing her voice box. and it was a very disfiguring surgery. but i think she felt like after all she'd gone through, that she was going to be ok. and so phyllis barnes soldiered on. there was the usual litany of chemo and radiation treatments. but phyllis also underwent additional throat surgeries and volunteered for experimental treatments. she suffered in silence. i think she kept a lot of what she
was going through to herself. narrator: family members admit phyllis' cigarette use was probably a factor, but those who watched phyllis withering away wondered if dr. weinberger might have missed a chance to catch phyllis' cancer early, which cost her valuable time. sean barnes: regardless of why she got cancer, how she got cancer, or where she got cancer, she should have been able to go to a doctor and expect a certain quality of treatment that she didn't get. narrator: in late 2002, perhaps sensing time was not on her side, phyllis barnes hired personal injury lawyer ken allen to sue dr. weinberger for negligence and malpractice. ken allen: phyllis had the classic signs and symptoms of throat cancer. she was a smoker for many years. she had a cough that wouldn't go away, sore throat, hoarseness. these are things that a first-year medical student
would recognize as signs and symptoms of throat cancer or laryngeal cancer. weinberger didn't pay attention. phyllis barnes: there's my daughter, sean . and my husband-- narrator: the soft southern voice that had once been phyllis' calling card was gone. my co-workers are so used to me talking like this, but people are always going to give me a look like what's basically wrong with you. narrator: in a video deposition given shortly after the lawsuit was filed, phyllis spoke in a flat, robotic voice about her cancer and her struggle to live a normal life. some days i have to suction out my lungs if they're congested. narrator: the stakes could not have been higher. sean, phyllis' only child had recently lost her father to cancer. now that she seemed destined to become an orphan, phyllis told her lawyer her daughter's welfare was her main concern.
i am my daughter's only surviving parent. i just want to make sure that she goes to school. narrator: on september 16, 2004, almost exactly one year after that deposition was recorded, phyllis barnes died surrounded by her family. as it happened, that was just two days before dr. weinberger and his wife left the united states for the greek islands. the great escape he'd been planning for three months was about to begin. coming up, and right on his heels a family and a lawyer seeking justice. he knew, having killed someone, that it was not something he could easily sweep under the rug. it really is evil. and he needs, he deserves to be punished. narrator: when "dateline" continues. people spend less time lying awake with aches and pains with advil pm than with tylenol pm.
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dr. mark weinberger was never shy about telling the people of northwest indiana who he was and what he was about, and neither is ken allen, a man who was weinberger's chief nemesis before he vanished, and later became one of his most persistent pursuers. he knew that he was mutilating patients to bill the insurance companies for surgeries that weren't necessary. it really is evil. and he needs, he deserves to be punished. narrator: ken allen, you remember, is the lawyer phyllis barnes hired to sue weinberger.
in court documents, allen alleges that weinberger misdiagnosed phyllis' troubled breathing and gave her a sinus surgery she didn't need, while missing the advanced throat cancer that eventually killed her. he needs to understand that it wasn't just the insurance companies that were harmed, it was people. lives were destroyed. people were hurt. phyllis barnes it turns out was just the tip of the iceberg. once mark weinberger fled, malpractice complaints began flooding into lawyers like ken allen. among those new clients were kayla thomas and her mother valerie. in 2003, eight-year-old kayla began having headaches, so severe they caused vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light. valerie says she decided to take kayla to dr. weinberger after seeing one of his billboards touting sinus surgery as a cure for headaches. i took her to his office. they did an immediate cat scan and said
she had a deviated septum, polyps, and he could make her headache-free for the rest of her life if she had immediate surgery. and how quickly did it happen? within two weeks, i believe. and how is she? the headaches never stopped. the light sensitivity actually became worse. narrator: valerie says it wasn't until she took kayla to see specialists at the university of chicago medical center that she finally discovered the cause of kayla's misery. and they did a cat scan as well of her head, and they told us that that evening that there was a tumor there. and what was that night like? that was the worst night of my life. narrator: though the tumor turned out to be non-cancerous, it was growing, and surgeons told the thomas's kayla would need immediate brain surgery to reduce the pressure in her head. narrator: and kayla, do you understand what the doctor said? i didn't understand most of it. but some of it.
like i would have to have surgery and how i would have to be taken care of afterward i understood. narrator: but there was a problem. valerie says the university of chicago doctors told her scar tissue from the weinberger sinus surgery prevented them from removing more than 5% to 10% of the tumor. her neurosurgeon, her neurologist, and her endocrinologist, and her oncologist all said why-- each one of them said a nine-year-old doesn't have polyps that need to be removed. narrator: in time, more than 350 of mark weinberger's former patients would join in lawsuits against him, while he was lounging in the cafes and casinos of europe. almost all of them accused him of the same things, misdiagnosing real problems and performing unnecessary surgeries. mark weinberger ran a surgery mill. he saw up to 100 patients or more a day. he did 100 or 150 surgeries a month. and he made a lot of money.
how do you see 100 patients in a day? you give every patient the same diagnosis. and you give every patient the same prescription-- surgery. narrator: 18 months after he'd vanished, a federal grand jury indicted weinberger in absentia on 22 counts of health care fraud. by now, the state of indiana had revoked his medical license and his sinus clinic had been sold off to settle outstanding debts. the fbi had issued a warrant for his arrest. but weinberger's ex-wife michelle says it was clear to her little effort was being made to actually find him. the fbi has a huge list of people that they're looking for. there's terrorists on the list. you know, here's a white collar criminal who just is hiding out in europe. and they made it clear to me that he wasn't their number one priority. narrator: coming up, a first class fugitive. and he arrived how? in a limousine with a driver, we were told.
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though the fbi posted its arrest warrant with interpol, an international police organization, mark weinberger was for all intents and purposes out of sight and out of mind. but not in northwest indiana. he needs to be held to account. and more than that, he needs to be punished. and it's my job to do that. narrator: for ken allen, the weinberger case felt personal. this was his backyard. and though we may not look like a working class hero in his tailored suits, ken allen says his father was a steelworker, like many of weinberger's former patients. in fact, allen says he worked in the mills himself as a teenager. that's him behind the welding mask. ken allen: a lot of my colleagues, as lawyers, somehow think that they morph into something different once they get a law degree and all of that.
and i know who i am, and i knew where i came from, and i don't forget that. narrator: though hard to prove, ken allen believes his lawsuit on behalf of phyllis barnes and her subsequent death are what caused mark weinberger to flee. weinberger realized at that juncture that his gig was up. he knew having killed someone that it was not something he could easily sweep under the rug. narrator: and so with prosecutorial zeal, this personal injury attorney hired private investigators to chase down rumored sightings of mark weinberger, in china, israel, and france. it was almost like sightings of elvis, because we would get tips or leads that we'd follow up on to a blind alley. narrator: but it was in this remote corner of italy,
not far from the swiss border, that our story takes its most intriguing turn. two years after mark weinberger slipped off that yacht in the greek islands, a mysterious american rolled into the alpine village of courmayeur, making a lasting impression with his money. courmayeur crouches in the shadow of majestic mont blanc, europe's highest peak on italy's side of the border with switzerland. it's quaint and remote. wealthy tourists are drawn to the slopes for the skiing in winter and mountain climbing in warmer months. at night, they fill the local bars, cafes, and restaurants. all of it providing the perfect cover for anyone who wants to live well without standing out. call it st. moritz without the glitz. do you forget how spectacular this is when you live here? you can't. you can't because it's very, very spectacular.
very, very spectacular. narrator: lieutenant colonel guido davita heads this region's carabinieri, or italian state police. you know everyone. no, everybody knows me. narrator: according to colonel devita, it was in late 2006, at the beginning of another winter ski season, that a certain high-rolling stranger rolled into courmayeur. and he arrived how? in a limousine with a driver, we were told. first class. very first class, very first class. narrator: locals say the stranger appeared to be an american. he kept to himself mostly. he was also described as a nice man, a very quiet man. did not cause any trouble. no, didn't-- no. narrator: sometimes he disappeared for months at a time. later, police suspected the stranger may have had business to transact on the other side of the mountains, in switzerland. he went a couple of times to switz--
he went to switzerland. to switzerland, also by bike. by bicycle. by bicycle. do you think he had bank accounts there? yes. narrator: coming up, a fugitive comes in from the cold. mark weinberger: if i owned this place, i would live here. i would live here. narrator: when "dateline" continues. advil liqui-gels minis. our first concentrated pill that rushes powerful relief. a small new size that's fast, cause it's liquid. woohoo! you'll ask, what pain? new advil liqui-gels minis.
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rob stafford: whatever this mysterious american, mark weinberger, was up to, it didn't take long for the locals to realize this stranger had a taste for the finer things and always paid in cash. colonel di vita: he had no job. he spent his time at the cafe with his computer, or he went shopping. what kinds of things did he buy? above all, the very, very expensive material for climbing. any sign of a bank account here in town? no. rob stafford: just cash? just cash. this is the main street of courmayeur.
and some very nice high end shops here. yes, and very expensive, too. this is a place where he frequented? yes. rob stafford: an american with money is always welcome. buongiorno. rob stafford: but in a small town like courmayeur, it was inevitable that someone would pull up a chair, perhaps buy him a drink, and try to learn something about this solitary american and pass it along. did you ever see him here? his name, according to those who gained his confidence, was mark, mark something. it sounded quite like a german last name, stern. rob stafford: mark stern. whenever he was in town, this mark stern seemed to be a fixture on the nearby slopes by day and a cafe presence by night. no one seemed to know where he slept exactly, until late 2008. here on the left, we have the agency. rob stafford: that's when he walked into this real estate office and signed a lease. this is where he rented his apartment.
yes. rob stafford: it looked as though the rich american intended to stick around for a while. here in italy, it's not a very affordable price. rob stafford: the apartment he rented was in a convenient spot near the center of town. whatever you would need is right here. just a few steps from the lift at the bottom of the mouth that carries skiers up to the slopes, and just a few yards down the block from a local grocery. and he would shop in here? yes. rob stafford: handy enough for a single man just off the slopes to run in and grab a few supplies and something simple to heat up at home. the stranger might well have lived on indefinitely as courmayeur's very own international man of mystery, had he not walked into that grocery store one night and struck up a conversation with the woman behind the register. that is where our story takes another fateful turn, because it was in that moment that the rich american proceeded to make a mistake that has proved the undoing of men
ever since adam accepted that apple from eve. the man who called himself mark stern was about to fall in love. [music playing] for more than two years, mark weinberger walked the streets of europe safe in the anonymity of crowds. according to vanity fair writer, buzz bissinger, weinberger simply cut away people from his past to anyone who knew his real name with the cool detachment of a surgeon. buzz: i think part of it was, i'm rejecting everything that i've known in the past. maybe you don't like your wife, or maybe you do. he leaves in september of 2004-- never, ever contacts her again. he's got a brother, neil, who he's very close to-- never, ever contacts him again. so that's what we're dealing with. rob stafford: it must have been exhilarating at first using fake names and covering your tracks like a character in some spy novel, but in all pulp fiction stories,
there comes a time and place where a woman enters the story, and carefully wrought plans begin to crumble. for the man calling himself mark stern, the place was courmayeur, and the woman in question had a past as intriguing as his own. i saw him in my market. a customer? yeah. he came to bring milk, bananas, some cheese. rob stafford: he was buying milk, banana, cheese from you? yeah. rob stafford: monica specogna, a transsexual, had recently had an operation to become female. she says the man who walked into her store bought groceries from her more than two dozen times in the winter of 2007-2008. sometimes he paused to make small talk. what name did he use? mark stern. mark stern? exactly. rob stafford: then she says she didn't see him for a while. in the springtime, boo, disappear. summertime, too.
rob stafford: monica says that when mark stern returned at the end of november, 2008, he told her he'd been bicycling around europe. it was then, monica says, she and that outdoorsy american began skiing together practically every day, and he began telling her stories about his life. he told me to be married and to be divorced, and to have a strange wife, asking money, money, money, money, money, mercedes first. he said his wife wanted all these things. exactly. he laughed about her. he laughed about her? yeah. rob stafford: monica says mark stern told her that he was a stockbroker from new york who'd made a lot of money, but now only wanted to live a peaceful life. monica: and he told me, my life was really, really, really, really, really stress. d now, so i'm he. i enjoy here, and so i found finally the quiet.
and that was impressive for me, because i'm quiet. rob stafford: according to monica, her mark stern was a born romantic who knew how to sweep a girl off her feet. monica: so valentine's day, 2009, he arrived with this rose with a big smile. it was an amazing night. so there happen private things. you know, when-- - love. yeah. yeah. first time with him, and after, i was-- always was good. rob stafford: but monica says even in their moments of intimacy, the man she knew as mark stern clammed up whenever she asked for details about his past. what he told me was, don't ask-- don't ask me my past, please.
don't ask. exactly. rob stafford: still, monica says the relationship became serious enough that she introduced him to her parents, who were quite taken by this sophisticated american. with my parents, talked about economy, talked about experience, the mountain, philosophy. philosophy? philosophy, yeah. camus. rob stafford: camus? philosophy-- a tantalizing clue, perhaps, but only for someone familiar with the life story of a certain free-spending, philosophy-loving fugitive doctor from america. philosophy, after all, had always been a pet passion of mark weinberger's, but that tidbit meant nothing to monica specogna. she'd never even heard of mark weinberger. all she knew was that this man, this mark stern loved her. monica: from the first day, was a really good man with me, with me, with my people, my family, with my friends,
was a good man. for me, was a good man. rob stafford: in the spring of 2009, monica says she and mark took a grueling bike trip through alpine passes to switzerland. monica says it was in the swiss village of grindenwald at the foot of famed mount eiger that mark told her he wanted to spend one night on the mountain alone. monica: next morning, i bring my cycle and up the mountain to him. he come close to me with a big smile, screaming, thank you, monica, thank you, monica, thank you, monica. why, mark? because i passed the best night of my life. rob stafford: after returning to courmayeur, monica says mark stern told her he'd been inspired by that night on the mountain and wanted to spend a whole year at a high altitude in a tent alone. monica: he wanted to write a book, how to survive above six-- 6,000 feet. exactly.
for an entire year. rob stafford: that september, monica says, mark set up and equipped three separate campsites in the mountains above courmayeur. really beautiful, really beautiful. rob stafford: she says he told her at after publishing that book he was writing, they would move to switzerland together and, perhaps, adopt children. mark: this is my little city i started building. rob stafford: and so as the temperatures dropped in the fall of 2009, and the snow came, the man monica knew as mark stern set to make a name for himself in the alps. to her, it seemed crazy, but writer, buzz bissinger, says monica's mark stern was actually behaving true to form. buzz: i think when he decided, i'm living this philosophical, ascetic monk-like life, i have to do it big time. i'm going to go to the mountain, and i'm going to live up to my butt in snow in 15-degree below weather and prove my manhood, unlike anyone else has ever proven it.
it makes perfect sense to me, because that's exactly what a narcissist does. mark: so this is base camp. rob stafford: monica recorded this video of her boyfriend's mountain campsite on her cell phone. mark: so the city is growing a little rob stafford: though his taste for having the very best gear money could buy is evidence, the new and improved alpine mark demonstrates that he has learned the value of improvisation. these are $8 gardening gloves, and i got sick of getting my hands wet with my expensive 100 euro high tech gore-tex gloves. rob stafford: in this clip, mark and monica have found an unoccupied shelter on the mountain. it's not as posh as that chicago townhouse he once owned, but after months of living alone in a tent, this shelter seems to suit him. if i owned this place, i would live here.
i would live here. monica: why not? for sure. rob stafford: these were the happy times, the moments when past burdens seemed to melt away like spring snow. but monica says there were also days when her lover seemed to be cracking under the weight of something unseen, and yet undeniable. monica: november, 2009, he was a little depressed, because it was cold, and the tent was alone. and so it was difficult, really difficult. one day, he began to cry. what's up, mark? what's up? stanco, i'm tired. i'm really tired. why, mark? forget, but i'm tired. rob stafford: was mark stern just tired of living in a tent or tired of living a lie? whichever it was, as he settled in for another cold and lonely night on the mountain, he had no idea of how close his past
was to catching up to him. coming up, but how close were police to catching up to him? buzz: it's the alps. there are a lot of places to hide. rob stafford: he left a copy of his real passport? a copy of his real passport, yes. and he's a fugitive on the run. i received a strange call to my phone. it was a friend, and he told me, monica, mark is not what he claimed to be. what do you mean? trust me. rob stafford: when "dateline" continues. copdso to breathe better,athe. i go with anoro. ♪go your own way copd tries to say, "go this way." i say, "i'll go my own way" with anoro. ♪go your own way once-daily anoro contains two medicines called bronchodilators,
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and it was like peeling, like, the scars away from my heart telling the whole story each time. rob stafford: but once the trail went cold, and the media tired of her story, michelle resigned herself to the probability mark weinberger was gone forever. michelle: i had hoped that he would be caught, but i thought there was a really good chance that he would die on the run in europe, and nobody would know where he was. rob stafford: then in september, 2008, four years after mark weinberger left her with nothing but her passport and 1,000 euros, michelle kramer got a call from the fbi asking her to do one more interview, this one with the crime show, "america's most wanted." michelle: the fbi hoped that i would help them, because they weren't getting anywhere with the case. i had stopped doing a lot of media at that point. i was focusing on my career and trying to move forward, but i thought, ok, i'll help with the investigation. i felt like i really needed an answer from him. rob stafford: it was a long shot,
michelle thought, another pointless appeal broadcast into the ether. you know, he's probably living kind of the high life once again somewhere in the mediterranean. rob stafford: but this time was different. this time, the mark weinberger story found extended shelf life on the internet, where more than a year later, on december 9, 2009, the right pair of eyes finally found it. monica: so i received a strange call to my phone. it was a friend, and he told me, monica, mark is not what he claimed to be. what do you mean? trust me. rob stafford: the next day, that friend met with monica and showed her a picture of the man she knew as mark stern. it was a printout taken from the america's most wanted website. my entire world fall. my knees crack. what's up?
it's not true. and my friend-- you didn't believe it. yeah. i don't believe it. rob stafford: a quick internet search confirmed the dimensions of a lie that left her dazzled and undone. her lover, mark stern, was actually mark weinberger, an international fugitive, and he was apparently capable of anything. monica: first thing, ok, i go to the carabinieri, to the police. i know where he is. i'm sorry, mark, but-- you need to tell the truth. exactly. buzz: i think that was a very tortuous decision, but i think at the end of the day, she felt she had an obligation. i give her a tremendous amount of credit. she did the right thing. rob stafford: it was inside this carabinieri station that monica specogna told police her lover, perhaps her first since becoming a woman, was a wanted man. was she crying? um, not exactly. but she was very, very scared. who really was this mark she knew?
rob stafford: colonel di vita says soon after monica left the office, a local rental agent walked in, also complaining about a man named mark who hadn't paid his rent in three months. most important, the agency had a copy of mark weinberger's real passport. he left a copy of his real passport? colonel di vita: a copy of his real passport, yes. and he's a fugitive on the run? yes, you can't rent a flat if you don't leave a copy of your document. rob stafford: not only did police now know monica's boyfriend and the deadbeat renter were one and the same, thanks to monica, they also knew which of three camp sites he was currently using. colonel di vita: she also told us that mark was going to stay there for a week. he would be in this location for a week. for a week, yes. without her doing that, who knows if they ever would have found him? you know, it's the alps. there are a lot of places to hide. rob stafford: the next day, police put a helicopter
in the air to search the area. though they saw tracks in the snow near where monica said they would find weinberger's camp, bad weather forced them to abandon the aerial search. but even then, luck seemed to be with the police. hikers just down from the mountain reported seeing something strange. colonel di vita: on the same day, people coming down from mountain told us that there was a strange male leaving the tent. rob stafford: finally, on the morning of december 15th, 2009, three days after monica had first tipped them off, a team of police officers set out on a cross-country trek to a remote area near the swiss border. colonel di vita: in the distance, we could see a man working around a tent. did he seem startled to see you? yes. rob stafford: and what does he say? colonel di vita: they were not wearing their uniform, and they approached him asking, what are you doing here? he answered, i want to live a quiet life. i want to live a quiet life.
a quiet life, yeah. and they asked the man, who are you? and he answered, i'm-- my name is mark weinberger. rob stafford: and that was that. after five years on the run and four months on the mountain, the search for mark weinberger was over. no confrontation, no dash for freedom. instead, the fugitive doctor posed for pictures. inside the tent, police found euros worth about $3,000, top notch equipment, a stockpile of food and medicine. - cialis. - cialis? cialis. all ok, i think it is viagra. like viagra. like viagra, yes, and some survival medications. rob stafford: under italian law, weinberger could be held for 24 hours while police verified his identity. so mark weinberger was taken back down the mountain to the police barracks in courmayeur. he was in very good shape, very quiet. i asked him, are you married? i'm divorced. what's your job? i'm a surgeon. rob stafford: a surgeon? - surgeon.
i'm a surgeon. did he say anything about the charges against-- no, no. rob stafford: while at the police station, weinberger was given a cursory pat-down and offered lunch. colonel di vita: he had food with us at our same table. rob stafford: was he hungry? i think yes. also, because our food here is very, very-- i'm want to say good. rob stafford: according to officers at the table, weinberger seemed to be enjoying himself, until the moment this bizarre story took an unexpected and desperate turn. what can you say about what happened next? we'd better talk about that, please. rob stafford: coming up, mark weinberger had not yet given up on escaping his past. he did not want to go back. there was too much a trail of devastation. i don't think they have any idea of what's going to happen. he pulls a knife out that he has concealed. rob stafford: when "dateline" continues.
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and get to the heart of what matters. hi, i'm the internet! you know what's dtj! get a job!ting... hi, guys. i'm back. time to slay! heals, heals, heals! yes! youuuu! no, i have a long time girlfriend. mom! i need my macaroni!!! you know what's easy? building your website with godaddy. pick a domain name. choose a design. you can build a website in under an hour. yeah! whoo! yes! get your domain today and get a free trial of gocentral. build a better website in under an hour.
after five years on the run, t capture of mark weinberger in the italian alps was almost anti-climactic. no shootouts, car chases, or international intrigue-- just friendly cops chatting up an amiable american over pictures, pasta, and wine. you know, it's very italian, and everything seems cool. any sense of what was about to happen next? none. no, i think they were shocked. he says he has to go to the bathroom. as would be police procedure, you know, they follow him into the bathroom. i don't think they have any idea of what's going to happen. rob stafford: an italian cop stood in an open doorway as weinberger sat on the toilet. then, in a flash, the officer saw weinberger's hands jerk toward his own throat.
he pulls a knife out that he has concealed and attempts to kill himself. rob stafford: though weinberger managed to inflict a superficial cut on his neck, police officers were able to stop him before he did serious damage. buzz: some say he was trying to attempt suicide, so he would get placed in a prison hospital. i don't think he was thinking that far ahead. i think he was trying to kill himself. rob stafford: days later, while recovering in a hospital, he tried again, this time by putting a plastic bag over his head. buzz: he did not want to go back. there was too much a trail of devastation. rob stafford: within a week, news of mark weinberger's arrest was everywhere. in merrillville, indiana, former patients woke to find their nose doctor on the front page. in alabama, michelle kramer, the wife he'd abandoned, was just wrapping up another long day as a psychology intern when she heard the news.
tears started coming out of my eyes, and i didn't know if they were tears of joy or tears of sadness. i couldn't even identify what my emotions were. rob stafford: out in california, shawn barnes, a college student, was heading home for the holidays when her aunt called to tell her. i got that news, and you have all this time to think going across the country, and it was just like the strangest christmas present i ever could have imagined. rob stafford: shawn's mother, phyllis barnes, remember, had been a patient of weinberger's and had filed the first malpractice suit against him. shawn: i wasn't sure, at first, if it was a good or a bad thing or what. rob stafford: by february, 2010, arrangements for weinberger's extradition had been completed, and he was back in the united states and facing a world of legal trouble. first, there was a 22-count federal criminal insurance fraud indictment charging him with billing for surgeries he didn't do and overbilling for those he did do. then, there were hundreds of former patients who were suing him for malpractice.
what he has done to my daughter is horrific. rob stafford: remember valerie thomas's daughter, kayla? she's the adorable eight-year-old who got sinus surgery from mark weinberger back in 2004, when her real problem was a brain tumor. kayla: he knew what he was doing. he knew that the surgery, you know, could cause me problems. what kind of a man do you think would skip out on all this-- a coward. rob stafford: while weinberger was off chasing adventure in europe-- monica: are you happy? i'm happy, baby. rob stafford: --kayla thomas had been growing up with a benign tumor in her head. kayla's mom says doctors told her most of the tumor could not be removed, because extensive scar tissue from the weinberger surgery blocked their access to it. and she's had many spinal taps since, because the tumor caused increased intercranial pressure. a lot of things we're taking day by day. and that's the way you want to take it. there's no-- i guess, right now, there's no other way to take it. rob stafford: she wonders what life would have been like had she never met mark weinberger.
kayla: if they'd gotten more of the tumor out, maybe my life now could be a little bit better. rob stafford: patients and others hoping mark weinberger would be severely punished by the criminal justice system were soon disappointed. eight months after his return to the united states, federal prosecutors offered mark weinberger a plea deal, which he accepted. in exchange for agreeing to plead guilty to all of the federal insurance fraud charges, mark weinberger would get four years in prison. if he gets four years, a slap on the wrist in club fed, i guarantee you he will be out somewhere, whether it's in the united states or somewhere else, practicing medicine, doing the same kind of thing in some way, shape, or form. rob stafford: regardless of the punishment he'd uimately received from the crimal justice system, it seems certain the malpractice suits would keep himied up in civil courts for years, each of them with the potential to put mark weinberger
in a financial prison from which there is no parole. it really is not about the money. it's about getting a large judgment against this man so that he can't feel any freedom for the rest of his life. rob stafford: in march, 2011, six and 1/2 years after he disappeared into the greek night, the first malpractice case filed against mark weinberger was ready for trial in civil court. coming up. ken: weinberger-- and i hesitate to call him a doctor-- treated phyllis barnes as nothing more than an insurance paycheck. suzette: the look in the eyes is a look i've never seen from him, that i would have never expected to see on his face. and that-- when you care about somebody, and you see that kind of look, it can't help but touch you. ken: you look into somebody's eyes, and you expect some glimmer of humanity, some soul, something.
he has nothing. he is a very evil person. suzette: nothing is ever as cut and dry as you believe it is. rob stafford: when "dateline" continues. my dbut now, i take used tometamucil every day.sh it traps and removes the waste that weighs me down, so i feel lighter. try metamucil, and begin to feel what lighter feels like. what's new from light and fit? greek nonfat yogurt with zero artificial sweeteners. real fruit and 90 calories... you'll be wowed! try new light & fit with zero artificial sweeteners. i just saved thousands in less than a minute, i found out how much home i can afford. i like how you shop for loans the same way you shop for flights online. i didn't realize at lendingtree you can save money on almost any sort of loan.
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i love you, baby. michelle: i love you, baby. rob stafford: persuade patients to trust him. i was very impressed with him. rob stafford: and make even seasoned cops believe he was harmless. he looked quite happy. rob stafford: whatever it was, the eyes that stared out from front pages after mark weinberger's capture still had the power to move even those he'd left behind. suzette: the look in the eyes is a look i've never seen from him, that i would have never expected to see on his face. and that-- when you care about somebody, and you see that kind of look, it can't help but touch you. rob stafford: suzette dennington, who was once mark weinberger's top medical assistant, was one of the few willing to say a kind word about him as his legal troubles mounted. nothing is ever as cut and dry as you believe it is. rob stafford: according to dennington, weinberger was a fine doctor, who was simply being attacked by former patients and their lawyers, because the salacious tabloid aspects of his story
had made him an easy target. suzette: i really don't think that he set out to scam the world and be guilty of the things that they are so easily saying that he's guilty of. rob stafford: attorney ken allen, however, sees it differently. ken: you look into somebody's eyes, and you expect some glimmer of humanity, some soul, something. he has nothing. he is a very evil person. rob stafford: in preparing to bring the phyllis barnes case to court, ken allen was able to question the runaway doctor in jail. ken: i saw a very sinister person, a very sinister person, and a person who is very capable of pretending he has some measure of remorse. but i could see he was not changed or remorseful at all. rob stafford: in march, 2011, more than six years after her death, the family of phyllis barnes
finally got their chance to present their malpractice case against mark weinberger in a civil trial. weinberger elected not to attend. ken allen's case hinged on convincing the jury weinberger could have caught phyllis's cancer, had he given her a thorough examination. allen told the jurors that phyllis barnes, a two-pack-a-day smoker, had gone to see weinberger complaining of trouble breathing, a sore throat, and hoarseness. she'd even been coughing up blood, but in spite of that history and those symptoms, allen told the jury weinberger violated the basic standard of care for an ent by focusing exclusively on her sinuses. ken: mark weinberger, who was an ent doctor-- ear, nose and throat-- simply forgot about the e and the t and focused on the n. well, you can't do that. if you are an ent doctor, you're required to examine the patient's throat, and that was one of the reasons why phyllis came to see him.
weinberger didn't even bother to look at her throat. rob stafford: as if calling his next witness from the grave, ken allen played a recording of phyllis barnes on a large tv monitor. he's told me that he only took whatever the insurance was willing to pay. and, you know, i felt like, you know, that was-- everybody seemed to be-- that was-- this was all good, that it was just sinuses. and no problem. so he did order a cat scan of the sinuses and scheduled surgery. rob stafford: this, ken allen told the jury, is the cat scan dr. weinberger did phyllis barnes's sinuses. according to experts who testified at trial, the scan showed phyllis's sinuses were actually clear. ken: weinberger-- and i hesitate to call him a doctor-- treated phyllis barnes as nothing more than an insurance paycheck. rob stafford: according to the ear, nose and throat doctor who discovered phyllis's throat cancer two months later,
the sinus surgery was not only unnecessary, it probably caused her cancer to grow more rapidly than it might have otherwise. ken allen told the jury the reason mark weinberger recommended sinus surgery for phyllis barnes was greed. mark weinberger needed money to support his lavish lifestyle, allen told the court, and sinus surgery is what paid the bills. ken: would you please tell us your name, and spell your last name for the court reporter? michelle kramer. rob stafford: allen even put weinberger's ex-wife, michelle, on the big screen to talk about their high life. michelle: we had a yacht that was in the mediterranean half the year, and it was in the bahamas the other half of the year. and we would spend 10 days the month, usually, on that yacht. rob stafford: in prerecorded testimony, michelle told the court that the phyllis barnes case had weighed heavily on her former husband's mind in the weeks before he abandoned her in greece. michelle: he was constantly fretting and worrying about the lawsuit, and he was just becoming increasingly
paranoid and anxious. rob stafford: shawn barnes, phyllis's daughter, also told the court of the devastating effect her mother's death had had on her life. her father had died of brain cancer 18 months earlier. shawn: i basically had to grow up overnight. i mean, i suddenly had bills to pay, and i was in danger of losing my house, and i had to go to school. i was going to work part time. i didn't have the opportunity to go out and be a college student or be a teenager, because i had all these responsibilities suddenly. rob stafford: ken allen wrapped up his case by playing the testimony he recorded of mark weinberger in jail. we can't show you the tape, because the judge in the case ruled that broadcasting it would prejudice future juries. however, we can tell you that mark weinberger answered every question the same way more than 150 times-- "on the advice of counsel, i'm asserting my fifth amendment privilege not to answer the question."
after that deposition was played for the court, weinberger's attorney began his defense by admitting, mark weinberger is probably not a likable guy. but that, he told the jury, is beside the point. this case, he said, is about one thing and one thing only-- dr. weinberger's treatment of phyllis barnes. james hough was the attorney hired by weinberger's malpractice insurer to defend him. hough did not respond to our request for an interview. however, in court, he told the jury phyllis barnes had needed sinus surgery. her history of chronic sinus problems had not only made her an ideal candidate for weinberger's surgery, he said, but after that surgery, she never again complained about her sinuses. vanity fair writer, buzz bissinger, says that defense fits in perfectly with what he's learned about mark weinberger. i think mark weinberger-- and i've heard this-- he believes that every surgery he did was merited. he did no unnecessary surgeries.
rob stafford: weinberger's lawyer presented witnesses who said that phyllis barnes's cancer was probably not even detectable when she first visited dr. weinberger. in fact, their lawyers said there were other medical professionals, such as the emergency room doctors, who'd also seen phyllis barnes at about the same time and failed to detect her throat cancer. suzette: i would ask people just to look at it from more than just one side. rob stafford: interestingly, suzette dennington, perhaps mark weinberger's most passionate defender, was not called to testify. suzette: he advertised just as a sinus specialist. patients called him based on knowing or suspecting that they had sinus problems. why is it unusual that he confirms that, yes, indeed, you have that condition? and why would he not offer them a surgical solution to their conditions? rob stafford: weinberger's attorney closed his case by reminding the jury the case before them only concerned dr. weinberger's treatment of one patient, not
that doctor's wealth or reputation or the fact that he'd fled the country. with that, the jury began deliberating on how much, if any money, should be paid by mark weinberger and his insurance company to the family of phyllis barnes. coming up, there was one more twist still to come, and it could end up costing mark weinberger so much more than money. reporter: if you had him in front of you, what would you talk about right now? this is your just desserts, you son of a bitch. buzz: ken allen is a shark, and when ken allen gets onto a case, he is a dog with a bone. he is not going to let go. i don't think he's ever lost in indiana. ken: weinberger believes that he's the smartest man in the room, and today, he discovered he's not. rob stafford: when "dateline" continues.
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the phyllis barnes malpractice case against mark weinberger went to the jury. television truck antennas sprouted like spring crocuses, and 25-year-old shawn barnes could feel a burden lifting. it's been hanging over my head for, at this point, almost 10 years. rob stafford: in the what-if world of her imagination, she'd still have a parent to turn to if she got into a jam. i try not to think about it, because i feel like the more i think of the what-ifs, the more i just hurt myself in the long run. but in a lot of ways, i feel like if i didn't have to live my life completely on my own, maybe i could get somewhere. rob stafford: sean was still a teenager when her mother's death made her an orphan. her inheritance consisted of a small life insurance payout and a pile of debt, including a mortgage on the old house she'd grown up in. shawn: i learned every type of insurance you had to have in about a day and a half
and how to pay all these bills, and i cut off my cable, and i got a different phone, and just how to cut down all these costs. and it was things that no one else my age ever had to think of. rob stafford: she did get help once mark weinberger fled the country, and the local press began writing about the people he'd left behind. with donations, loans, scholarships, and part time jobs, shawn was able to put herself through college. in 2008, she graduated with honors. shawn: i had 17 years with my dad. i had 19 years with my mom. and even the bad parts were still better than some of the lives i've seen other people living, who have parents. i wish i had both of them still. i wish i had opportunities that other people i see my age having, but i'm glad that it was really good when it was. rob stafford: it was after dark by the time
the jury of four men and four women reached their unanimous decision. dr. mark weinberger had committed malpractice in the case of phyllis barnes. we're pleased that the jury has held mark weinberger accountable for his misdeeds. rob stafford: the jury determined that phyllis's estate should be awarded a total of $13 million in compensatory and punitive damages. shawn: having this verdict at least puts her to rest in the most positive way, knowing that in her passing, she's bringing this man to justice. rob stafford: indiana caps malpractice awards at one and 1/4 million dollars, and though mark weinberger's insurance company is on the hook for $250,000, weinberger says he's broke. still, the verdict is a significant first step in ken allen's pledge to bury mark weinberger under a mountain of debt. reporter: if you had him in front of you, what would you talk about right now? this is your just desserts, you son of a bitch.
buzz: ken allen is a shark, and when ken allen gets onto a case, he is a dog with a bone. he is not going to let go, and i don't think he's ever lost in indiana. rob stafford: but buzz bissinger says even a personal injury lawyer like ken allen can never tally the damage mark weinberger did to the people who cared about him, employees like suzette dennington, his wife, michelle, and yes, monica specogna, the woman who turned him in. buzz: imagine-- i mean she's turning in the man she loves, maybe the only person she's ever really truly felt comfortable with and loved in her life. rob stafford: how deep is the scar for you? it's deep. it's deep. it's deep. rob stafford: but monica says she still cares deeply for the man she knew as mark stern, and the feeling is evidently mutual. monica: i receive a letter from the correctional center. and what did it say? i love you. don't forget-- don't forget me, or don't forget the mountain.
so he searched to be real with me. he was-- i think he was real with me. rob stafford: it's noteworthy that shortly after mark weinberger's capture in italy, his italian girlfriend began corresponding with his american ex via facebook. michelle: i was picturing, you know, a thin blond girl who was maybe about 20, 25. i was 25 when i met him. that's what i had pictured. monica is about the opposite of you. yes. we shared one thing in common. you know, he lied to her, and he lied to me. and i did everything i could to get him turned in, and she actually is the person that turned him in. so we had a lot in common. rob stafford: it took a few years, but michelle kramer has moved on in her life. remember how she felt about the lawyers who had begun zeroing in on her ex-husband just before he fled? i think it's a bit opportunistic,
but that's the state of our legal system in this country. rob stafford: she's changed her mind about that. i thought that the lawyers were targeting him and that he was just too cowardly to stand up, and that's why he left. but i didn't think that he actually did any of these things. but now you do. i do. you think the lawyers had a right to go after him? oh, yes. i'm very glad that they did. rob stafford: whether he hopes to return to monica in the alps one day or write that book about his time there, mark weinberger will apparently have plenty of time to plan his next step. the federal judge in this courthouse rejected the plea deal weinberger had agreed to with prosecutors, saying four and 1/2 years was not nearly enough given the scope of the crimes. i'm going to [inaudible]. rob stafford: after the judge rejected the deal, mark weinberger withdrew his guilty plea. he faces the possibility of a criminal trial and a much longer prison term if he's convicted on all 22 counts of health care fraud.
peggy: it feels so good to know that he's not going to get out anytime in the foreseeable future. i think everybody can rest easier knowing that. and i think my sister would be pleased with the decision. weinberger believes that he's the smartest man in the room, and today, he discovered he's not. i think this will end for him in jail, and that's our hope. rob stafford: as a student of philosophy, mark weinberger is no doubt familiar with the ancient greek philosopher who wrote, "a man's character is his fate." he was very grandiose. he was very entitled. he was haughty at times. rob stafford: for michelle kramer, whose life changed in the blink of a greek sunset, and many former patients and their families, the imprisonment and public shaming of dr. nose feels like a fate well-deserved. [music playing]