By Ralph Cipriano
It could be the dream of any accused felon who's ever been busted by the feds.
Turn the tables on your accusers. Put them on the witness stand under oath. And then make them squirm while you play lawyer and get to ask all the questions you want.
Dr. William O'Brien 3rd was living the dream today. For the second straight day, the accused pill doctor who's representing himself at his criminal trial in federal court had FBI Agent Diana Huffman stuck on the witness stand for more grueling hours of his amateur cross-examination.
For two hours on Tuesday and more than five hours today, O'Brien dragged Huffman through the minutiae of the case, going over one patient file after another. When he wasn't pecking the FBI agent to death, the pill doctor was talking up his own credentials, showing off his medical knowledge, and making speeches to the jury.
Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Beth Leahy was growing increasingly irritated with O'Brien's act. And Judge Nitza Quinones was getting more work than a baseball umpire because the prosecutor was objecting to virtually every question O'Brien asked. At times, Leahy objected to three questions in a row from the doctor, objections that were all sustained by the judge.
None of which phased O'Brien, who didn't act like he was ready to give up the spotlight any time soon.
"Your Honor, the defendant is testifying," the prosecutor yelled after O'Brien finished another speech to the jury.
O'Brien went case by case through his patient files, pointing out how many patients he threw out of his office when he found out they were selling their prescriptions to others.
What O'Brien was trying to show the jury was how responsible he was, how much he really helped his patients, and how that 140-count indictment about him running a pill mill had to be a bunch of bull.
"I threw him out of my office several times," O'Brien said about one patient who was a member of the Pagans motorcycle gang.
O'Brien argued with FBI Agent Huffman about who was running the pill mill as they went over an organizational chart that listed 13 members of the alleged conspiracy.
"You were running the organization," Huffman finally told O'Brien.
O'Brien, however, got Huffman to acknowledge that early in the investigation, the pill doctor voluntarily gave the FBI the names of at least a half-dozen Pagans who were "pseudo-patients," outlaw bikers who were allegedly selling their prescriptions they received from Dr. O'Brien.
Did you arrest any of those bikers, the doctor wanted to know.
"We did not arrest pseudo-patients," the FBI agent said.
Why not, O'Brien asked.
"We chose not to," Huffman said. "We didn't have enough evidence to arrest them."
While going through his files, O'Brien pointed out the patients who had legitimate medical conditions. Such as one high-ranking Pagan known as "Fitter," whose real name was Patrick Collins.
Did you know Fitter had "severe diabetes," O'Brien asked the FBI agent. "Do you have a problem with me treating him for diabetes?"
"Objection," yelled the prosecutor. "He's badgering the witness."
"Sustained," the judge said.
O'Brien questioned Huffman about her relationship with an FBI agent who was her partner. Then, the doctor compared the two FBI agents who busted him to a couple of notorious outlaw bikers.
"Objection to that characterization," the prosecutor said.
"Sustained," said the judge.
While he was cross-examining the FBI agent, Dr. O'Brien frequently turned his back to the witness so he could scrawl messages for the jury to read on a giant pad resting on an easel.
"Objection," the prosecutor said.
"He's permitted to do so," the judge said about the notes the doctor was writing for the jury's benefit.
So the doctor wrote more notes. Is there one f or two in professional, he asked at one point. Then he apologized. At 51, he said, he still doesn't know how to spell.
But he does know how to talk. And while he was asking his questions he rambled on about the many things he had done for his patients, the secret illnesses he had discovered, and the teaching awards he had won at a medical college.
"I was the 1995-95 teacher of the year at Delaware Valley Medical College," he said.
The amateur lawyer scored a few points with the jury when he got FBI Agent Huffman to admit that the feds paid an undercover informant in his case $5,600 in cash.
"That's our procedure," Huffman told the jury. Undercover operatives are paid in cash and told they are obligated to report it to the IRS.
Doing the math, O'Brien figured out that the undercover operative posing as a patient in his offices was getting $300 a visit, $100 more than the doctor was charging to write prescriptions for pills.
"She's making more money than I do," O'Brien complained.
O'Brien told the FBI agent that if he was running a pill mill, he would have taken in more cash, and not deposited his money in banks.
"Do you think I"m an idiot," O'Brien asked the FBI agent.
"I think you're running a typical pill mill," she replied.
"You targeted me," the doctor said.
"You were the subject of our investigation," she corrected him.
When O'Brien was reading from records in the case, the FBI agent complained that he was reading too fast.
O'Brien apologized, saying he was excited.
"You have to take a couple of breaths as you read," the judge advised him.
O'Brien badgered FBI agent Huffman to tell him where in the indictment was he charged for asking an undercover FBI agent for a blow job.
"Conspiracy to distribute controlled substance," the agent replied.
Even though I didn't give her the pills, the doctor said. And she didn't give me the blow job?
During his cross-examination, Dr. O'Brien asked a lot of questions about that attractive undercover FBI agent that the doctor offered to trade blue Xanax pills with in exchange for a blow job.
O'Brien asked FBI Agent Huffman if the undercover agent was chosen for the assignment because she was young and attractive. He seemed to be implying entrapment.
We were looking for somebody who could play the role of the niece of another patient, the FBI agent explained. Being attractive wasn't necessary.
But, "She is pretty," FBI Agent Huffman conceded.
Jurors seemed alternately amused and fatigued as the cross-examination dragged on. One juror yawned, another bowed his head. A third juror was seen rubbing his eyes.
The judge decided it was time for an afternoon break. As the jury filed out, the prosecutor protested to the judge that Dr. O'Brien had used the break to convey to the jury in a "stage whisper" that "She lied," referring to FBI Agent Huffman.
The doctor apologized, but in his next breath, he told the judge it wasn't his fault that the FBI agent really was lying.