Anyone who has suffered from sinus problems knows how desperate the search for relief can be. And it's not just the pain and discomfort. In the most serious cases, sinusitis can lead to blood clots and vision problems. Sinus infections can even spread to the brain.
But an Indiana surgeon saw one thing in particular up his patients' noses: money.
Mark Weinberger set up his sinus surgery center in Merrillville, Indiana, in the heart of the Rust Belt. The concentration of steel mills and factories in Northwest Indiana meant there were lots of people with breathing problems — and generous union health insurance plans.
Bill Boyer was a heavy equipment operator by day and a bouncer by night.
"I was an amateur boxer back in the '70s, and my nose was broken several times," he told "
American Greed." "I was having trouble with breathing through it, snoring, and I just decided to see if there was anything to be done to get it fixed."
He had seen Dr. Weinberger's billboards along the highway, and finally decided in 2003 to go in and see him.
Boyer said the doctor performed a CT scan.
"He points to the computer there and shows me these really terrible images on there saying that was my sinuses," Boyer recalled. "I asked him, I go, 'That's in me?' and he said, 'Yes.'"
The images included polyps and a deviated septum. But fortunately, Weinberger said, he had the answer: endoscopic sinus surgery, which he performed on Boyer a few weeks later, billing Boyer's insurance company for $42,000.
But the surgery brought no relief, in part because Weinberger had never performed it. Another doctor later determined that all Weinberger had done was to bore two holes in Boyer's skull. And that's not all. Those troubling images from the CT scan? They were someone else's. Boyer's sinuses, it turned out, were essentially normal.
It turned out Bill Boyer was one of hundreds of Weinberger patients taken in by the same scam. In at least one case, the consequences went far beyond delayed relief.
Phyllis Barnes had gone to see Weinberger in 2001 complaining of hoarseness and weight loss, and reporting she had been coughing up blood. Weinberger's diagnosis? Nasal polyps and a deviated septum, which endoscopic sinus surgery would take care of. But in fact, it was later determined Phyllis Barnes had throat cancer, which eventually killed her.
"His diagnosis was never for the welfare of his patients, Barnes family attorney Ken Allen told "
American Greed." "His diagnosis was a diagnosis for dollars, and for Phyllis that was a death sentence."
Weinberger grew rich off his patients' desperation — private jets, yachts and a $2.4 million mansion on Chicago's Gold Coast, from which a chauffeur-driven limo would take him the 45 miles each way to and from Merrillville.
But as the malpractice claims began piling up in 2004, Weinberger would take a much different journey.
On vacation with his wife in Greece, he disappeared. It would be another five years before authorities would catch up to him, following a failed suicide attempt in the Italian Alps.
In 2012, after Weinberger plead guilty to 22 counts of health care fraud, a federal judge sentenced him to seven years in prison. But U.S. Bureau of Prisons records show Weinberger was released earlier this year. Separately, one civil jury ordered Weinberger to pay Bill Boyer $300,000 for malpractice. Another jury awarded $13 million to Phyllis Barnes' estate.
Watch "Mark Weinberger: Nose No Bounds" on Hulu.