By George Anastasia
She was an FBI informant who posed as a patient with chronic headaches.
He was a doctor who authorities say ran a "pill mill," prescribing oxycodone, Xanax and Percocet for whoever was willing to come up with a $200 "co-pay" for each five- to seven-minute session.
More than a year after their last office visit, Marian Murphy and Dr. William O'Brien 3d squared off in federal court this afternoon as O'Brien's conspiracy and drug dealing trial entered its second week.
It quickly got personal.
Murphy, a waitress with a lengthy criminal record that includes fraud, identity theft and driving under the influence, called O'Brien "the biggest drug dealer in South Philadelphia" and, her voice rising, her face turning red, asked "Do you know how many people are in rehab because of you?"
O'Brien, who is representing himself, shot right back at the witness, asking, "How is South Philly doing right now? Is it cleaned up?"
O'Brien has been held without bail since his arrest in January 2015, a point he has come back to several times during the trial while portraying himself as the victim of overzealous federal prosecutors and FBI agents.
His cross-examination of Murphy gave him the chance to hammer on that theme with questions that not only challenged her veracity and credibility but that also went to the heart of the government's case against him.
While O'Brien tried to paint himself as a victim, Murphy jumped at the chance to portray herself as a crusader. It was a war of words that took the trial in a decidedly different direction.
"My son became a heroin addict because of people like you," she said in an angry non-response to a question posed by O'Brien. She then went on to explain that her son got hooked on illegal prescription pills while in high school. One of his friends, she said, had gotten a script from a doctor and was selling the pills to classmates. That addiction eventually led her son to heroin, she added. With tears in her eyes, she admitted that she often gave him money so that he could buy heroin because it was her only way to keep him close.
Today, she said, her son is serving a "20 to 40 year" prison sentence for murder tied to his heroin habit. That, she implied, was the reason she worked for the FBI in the case against O'Brien who, she said, was no different that a corner drug dealer.
O'Brien, according to authorities, ran a pill mill in conjunction with members of the Pagans, an outlaw motorcycle club whose members and associates were also patients of the doctor. Authorities allege that O'Brien pocked nearly $1.8 million writing prescriptions for "patients" who later sold the pills on the streets.
They also have alleged that some members of the Pagans were making $10,000-a-week selling the drugs that O'Brien prescribed.
Murphy, who said she first heard about O'Brien while working as a waitress at the Broad Street Diner in South Philadelphia, has acknowledged that she was paid $5,600 by the FBI for her informant work, which included 14 (or perhaps 15, more on that later) visits to O'Brien's office in 2014. She also introduced an undercover FBI agent posing as her "niece" to the doctor. The agent became a patient and made five visits to O'Brien's office.
During one visit, authorities allege and O'Brien conceded in his opening remarks to the jury, the doctor offered to increase the dose of Xanax he was prescribing for the undercover agent in exchange for a blow job.
A tape of that visit is expected to be played when the agent, Heather Whelan, takes the stand perhaps later this week.
Every visit made by the agent or Murphy was picked up on audio and video tape, authorities say.
During Murphy's visits, the recording devices were hidden in a pocketbook she carried. She said the visits lasted between five and seven minutes and that O'Brien never checked her blood pressure, never examined her, never even wore a stethoscope.
The jury saw and heard the video and audio tapes while Murphy was being questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, one of the prosecutors in the case. They were also shown prescriptions in which large dosages of oxycodone and Xanax were prescribed by O'Brien.
The visits included brief conversations in which O'Brien asked her how she was feeling. She complained of headaches and of problems dealing with her elderly mother. The mother, like the headaches, was a fiction.
"You can't fix crazy," O'Brien said during one visit, commiserating with Murphy about the elderly mother. "You can drug it."
When Murphy asked O'Brien to up the dosage of her oxycodone from 20 milligrams to 30, he asked, "What's the problem?"
"I need them," she replied.
The doctor increased the dosage and over the course of 14 visits also increased the number of tablets from 60 to 90 and then to 120.
The last visit the jury saw was a tape from Dec. 15, 2014. That, Murphy said, was the last time she was in O'Brien's office. But the doctor showed her visit notes and a prescription written on Jan. 15, 2015, for 120 oxycodone pills.
Murphy, her face turning red, her voice rising, said "You know damn well I wasn't in your office on Jan. 15."
She said that each visit she made was recorded and that she would meet with the FBI immediately after the visit and turn the slips of paper on which the prescriptions were written over to the agents. She never filled any of the prescriptions, she said.
O'Brien asked if that last visit -- he was arrested on Jan. 29 -- was one that she did on her own, implying that she sold the drugs to make additional cash.
"Dr. O'Brien, you're lying," she said. 'I wasn't there."
O'Brien countered by asking. "Are you worrying this might jeopardize you job as an informant?"
Murphy shook her head in anger and then asked the judge for a brief recess. During the break, Troyer asked Judge Nitza Quinones to rein in the questioning, arguing that O'Brien "wasn't doing himself any favors" by bringing up the heroin problems of Murphy's son.
But before the judge could respond O'Brien said he was not concerned with how Murphy's comments about him might be perceived by the jury.
"Her credibility is at stake," O'Brien said. "And I think she's doing a great job blowing herself up."
Shortly before Murphy completed her testimony the jury heard another conversation recorded as she and the undercover FBI agent drove to O'Brien's Levittown office.
"He's a sick motherfucker and he's going to jail for a long time," Murphy said.
When O'Brien asked her about the tape -- implying that she would do anything to set him up --Murphy said, "That's where you belong."
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.