Dr. William O'Brien, charged with running a "pill mill" that dumped millions of dollars of illegal drugs onto the streets of Philadelphia and the suburbs, told a federal jury this afternoon that it was wrong for him to ask an undercover FBI agent posing as a patient for a blow job.
"I'm embarrassed and ashamed that I asked a patient for oral sex," O'Brien, who is acting as his own defense attorney, said in an opening statement to a federal court jury that will decide his fate. "I shouldn't have done it as a physician. I shouldn't have done it as a man. It was wrong."
But that was the only concession the doctor made today during a 45-minute address to the jury at the start of his trial. For most of that time, O'Brien attacked the prosecution, claiming the government's case was built on lies and misinformation.
"They're not going to be able to prove it," O'Brien said of the charges of conspiracy, drug dealing, money-laundering and bankruptcy fraud outlined in a 140-count indictment brought against him and 10 co-defendants. "An indictment is only one side of the story...I finally get to tell my side."
All of O'Brien's co-defendants have pleaded guilty. Several are expected to testify for the government, including his ex-wife/girlfriend with whom he was living at the time of his arrest in January 2015. The jury will also hear from investigators and three exotic dancers who have said they exchanged sex for prescriptions for oxycodone, methadone and other controlled substances.
Unlike the undercover FBI agent, the dancers said they agreed to the sex-for-scripts proposal that prosecutors allege was part of a broader drug operation run out of O'Brien's offices and set up by members of the Pagans, an outlaw motorcycle gang.
"This is a case about drugs, money, fraud and greed," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, who is prosecuting the case along with M. Beth Leahy. Troyer said O'Brien "abused his license" and used his office "as a supermarket for drug dealers and drug addicts in the Philadelphia area."
Before the day ended, the jury heard limited testimony from FBI Agent Diana Huffman who described surveillance operations, including video from a pole camera placed outside O'Brien's office in the 2500 block of South Broad Street. He also had offices on Bustleton Avenue and in Levittown and Trevose. Huffman will be back on the stand when the trial resumes Tuesday morning.
Troyer told the jury that not all the government witnesses would be "likeable," but he said they would "provide a unique, inside look at this conspiracy." Authorities allege that O'Brien pocketed $1.8 million through the pill mill scam, charging about $200 per visit for "patients" whom he seldom examined and who were merely paying cash for prescriptions.
Over a three-year period that began in 2012, prosecutors say members of the Pagans and other "patients" the bikers sent to the doctor, converted the scripts and then sold the drugs -- oxycodone, methadone, Xanax and Percocet -- on the streets.
Hundreds of thousands of pills were converted to cash, authorities allege, with some bikers generating as much as $10,000-a-week in sales.
Troyer also described the death of Joseph Ennis, a 38-year-old Bucks County resident who was referred to O'Brien after he was injured in a car accident. The prosecutor said O'Brien prescribed what became a toxic mix of drugs that led to Ennis's death in December 2013 when his heart stopped.
O'Brien is not charged with murder, but with contributing to Ennis' death.
A La Salle University graduate with a degree from Southeast College of Osteopathic Medicine in Miami, O'Brien portrayed himself as the target in a David and Goliath battle. He likened the government to the "bullies" who had picked on him as a boy and said he intended to fight back.
"You have to defend yourself," he said he once told his own young son. "You have to fight back. You might get your ass kicked but the bully's going to learn a lesson."
O"Brien said he has lost 165 pounds since being arrested and held without bail in January 2015. He mocked government investigators who referred to him as "the fat doctor" and members of the Pagans who are heard on taped phone conversations referring to him as the "fat jerkoff."
He told the jury Ennis' death was unfortunate, but insisted he had no more to do with it than the pharmacist who filled the prescriptions. He speculated that Ennis had taken more than what was prescribed as a daily dose of some of the medication to treat his pain.
He also told the jury that members of the biker gang were his patients, but not his partners in crime. He made no mention of the exotic dancers and the sex-for-scripts scheme other than his references to the undercover FBI agent.
That conversation was one of several that will be played for the jury. The undercover and a cooperating witness who also obtained scripts from O'Brien were wired for sound and secretly video recorded their visits.
On one tape, authorities said, O'Brien offered the undercover a stronger dose of Xanax -- one milligram rather than .5 milligrams. The pill containing the larger dosage was known as "a blue." On the tape, O'Brien asks for "a blow for a blue."
In outlining his defense, the doctor claimed the drug charges are a spinoff of another government investigation into his successful invention and operation of a hyperbarbic oxygen chamber.
In a somewhat convoluted argument, O'Brien seemed to be saying that when authorities and powers within the medical community couldn't control his use of the chamber, they launched a criminal investigation to stop him.
"If they can't find a crime, they create one," he said.
While the jury will not be told, O'Brien is facing conspiracy and health care fraud charges in a pending criminal case that alleges that his oxygen chamber was a fraud and that he engaged in "medically unnecessary" treatments that generated $4.2 million in payments.
O'Brien said his invention -- a cheaper version of a more expensive machine -- "saved lives."
"I can heal a broken arm in five days," he said of the machine's capabilities.
Returning to the charges he is facing, O'Brien told the jury, "I'm going to win. They can't beat me because I didn't do it."
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.