When Italian Carabinieri police captured American fugitive Mark Weinberger in the Italian Alps in December, they received a boost from one of the country's most popular crime shows, "America's Most Wanted."
The show's Web site helped authorities identify Weinberger, and now the man dubbed the "king of fraud" by the Italian media has been extradited to the United States, while the show celebrates its success.
"I just feel immense pride," said AMW producer Jenna Griffiths from the show's office in Bethesda, Md. "I feel so proud that we could help this tiny town in Italy and I was totally shocked when they found him."
Weinberger was arrested in December camping in snow-covered Alps near the Italian luxury ski resort of Courmayeur on the French border, after five years on the run.
The 46-year-old was thought to be making his way to Switzerland when he was caught in rugged terrain by local Carabinieri and taken to nearby Aosta.
Police had received reports from hikers about a strange man in a tent at around 8,000 feet, and wondered if it was an American who had failed to pay his rent on an apartment in Courmayeur.
Head of the Carabinieri in Aosta, Comandante Guido Di Vita, said police were afraid the man may have been a terrorist and were surprised when they found that Interpol had issued an international alert for Weinberger.
"At the beginning we had no idea he was so important. In the end we were able to piece together the pieces of the puzzle three or four days before his arrest," he told the Post-Tribune.
"It was not only through Interpol. We also surfed the Internet and saw 'America's Most Wanted.' When we saw 'America's Most Wanted' we were astonished -- 300 people affected and 22 charges."
As "America's Most Wanted" prepares to air its 1,000th episode this week, the show has extra reason to celebrate the rare capture of an international fugitive. The show featured its report on Weinberger in its season premiere in September 2008.
"I think it means enormous relief for so many people who lost so much money and underwent unnecessary surgery," said Griffiths, who has followed the case since 2007. "I hope they feel a tremendous sense of justice."
A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington last week declined to comment on the case, saying the department speaks about extradition cases only when the accused is on U.S. soil.
On Thursday, U.S. authorities transported Weinberger from Italy to the United States. He is expected to make an initial appearance on Monday in U.S. District Court in Hammond.
The surgeon was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2006 on 22 counts of medical fraud and could face up to 300 civil claims filed by former patients.