In 2004, with hundreds of malpractice lawsuits piling up and federal investigators probing his northwest Indiana medical practice, Weinberger disappeared from his 80-foot yacht docked off the Greek island of Mykonos. He left behind his wife and $6 million in debts, an escape he apparently had been plotting for months.
A few of those patients were on hand at the federal courthouse in Hammond on Wednesday at a hearing where a judge was to approve a plea deal with prosecutors that would send Weinberger, 47, to prison for four years on 22 counts of fraud.
The four-year sentence — which is in line with federal guidelines for a first-time offender but well below the maximum sentence — seemed like another escape for Weinberger, said Peggy Hood, whose sister, Phyllis Barnes, died of throat cancer after she allegedly was misdiagnosed by Weinberger.
"Four years (in prison) to me would mean he basically got away with murder," said Hood, noting that an Indiana jury last month awarded her sister's estate $13 million in damages.
"He caused my sister's death," Hood said.
U.S. District Judge Phillip Simon rejected the plea agreement, saying the insurance fraud totaling $318,000 likely does not encompass the full scope of Weinberger's alleged crimes.
Simon said he would not consider the numerous letters from outraged patients because Weinberger was charged only with defrauding insurance companies by allegedly billing them for work he never did.
"That is for a civil court to decide, whether the defendant was a good doctor or a not-so-good doctor. This is a straightforward insurance fraud case," Simon said.
The case is now set for trial unless Weinberger's court-appointed attorneys are able to negotiate a new deal with prosecutors.
The ruling by Simon was another patch of turbulence in Weinberger's bizarre fall from grace.
After completing a prestigious residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Weinberger purchased an ear, nose and throat practice in 2001 in Merrillville, Ind., and outfitted his offices lavishly.
He lived in a five-story townhouse in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood but based his practice south of the steel mills and oil refineries of northwest Indiana, where he had a pool of patients with sinuses irritated by pollution — and union jobs that provided health insurance, his former wife, Michelle Kramer, has said in depositions.
He made the one-hour commute from Chicago in a chauffeured car, passing billboards advertising his clinic. At lunchtime, a different chauffeur delivered sushi from his favorite Chicago restaurant, court records show.
He had eight laptops at his home and 20 cellphones because he didn't like to have to carry things from room to room, Kramer said. Occasionally, when he was handed change by a waitress, he would throw it to the ground, as if he couldn't be bothered, she said.
Civil lawsuits allege that Weinberger performed dozens of surgeries a day, often spending as few as 25 minutes in the operating room to perform an outdated procedure that involved drilling small holes in the sinuses. He then billed patients' insurance for more involved operations that would have taken hours longer. Often, their symptoms worsened after surgery, said Leslie Pollie, an Indianapolis attorney whose firm represents 288 of Weinberger's former patients.
In the months leading up to his disappearance, Weinberger purchased books on hiding one's identity, and men who appeared to be diamond merchants from New York came to his Merrillville office, apparently to sell Weinberg loose diamonds, Kramer said.
A backroom at the office slowly filled with survival gear, tents, a GPS device and computer language translator equipped for five languages, she said.
After he fled, his home in Chicago, valued at $2.8 million, was foreclosed. A bank had the yacht towed and auctioned it off.
Acting on a tip from hikers who spotted Weinberger's campsite in northwest Italy, Italian police arrested Weinberger in 2009.
Kramer, who searched for her former husband for months, said Wednesday that she was pleased to hear the judge had rejected Weinberger's plea deal.
"It would be good to see justice served after all this time," she said. "It would sort of restore my faith in the justice system to see him get a longer sentence."