By George Anastasia
Did the Pagans have something to do with the disappearance of Danielle Imbo and Richard Petrone Jr., a couple last seen leaving a bar on South Street 11 years ago?
The FBI may think so.
In a bizarre twist to what is already a bizarre trial, the Imbo-Petrone disappearance and suspected murder may have been alluded to during a tape played at the pill mill trial of Dr. William O'Brien 3d. He is charged with conspiring with the Pagans in a multi-million dollar prescription pill scam.
Back in July Patrick Treacy, a member of the outlaw motorcycle gang, was questioned about a "double homicide," although the victims were not identified.
"I didn't murder nobody," Treacy, 48, said in a taped interview played today for the jury at the pill mill trial. The interview lasted about 40 minutes and was being conducted by FBI Agent Vito Roselli who is handling the Imbo-Petrone investigation.
On the audio and video tape, Roselli urges Treacy to "get ahead of all the bullshit that's going to be coming down" and tells him "in order to help yourself, you gotta clean this up."
There is no direct reference to the Imbo-Petrone investigation and, to further cloud the already murky nature of the trial, there is another double homicide, the 2013 South Philadelphia slayings of Anthony Rongione, 44, and Michael Spering, 52, that sits on the fringe of the pill mill probe.
Authorities were vague about which double homicide Roselli was referring to. "Both," said one source. A spokesman for the FBI did not return a call seeking comment.
"I'll take my chances," Treacy said at another point in the interview, again repeating that he did not kill anyone.
The interview was conducted after Treacy was arrested in the pill mill conspiracy case. He is one of 10 defendants charged along with O'Brien. All 10 have pleaded guilty. O'Brien, who is representing himself, is accused of pocketing $1.8 million while writing thousands of prescriptions for oxycodone, methadone, Percocet and Xanax for members of the outlaw biker gang, their associates and other "patients" they would send to him. The doctor allegedly charged $200 per visit and seldom, if ever, examined a patient.
The pills would then be sold on the street with authorities contending some members of the motorcycle gang were making $10,000-a-week in illegal sales.
O'Brien has denied the charges and has said he was treating patients for pain management and had no idea anyone was selling the pills illegally.
Treacy, according to pre-trial prosecution documents, obtained 49,852 oxycodone pills and 17,070 methadone tablets during the three-year probe.
Why O'Brien opted to introduce the taped interview as evidence is unclear. It was another legal move that had prosecutors scratching their heads. Judge Nitza Quinones, who has granted O'Brien leeway in presenting what some see as an unorthodox and unfocused defense, cautioned O'Brien today about dragging out his cross-examination of federal agent Joshua Gill. The special agent has been on the stand for four days and was questioned about the Treacy tape even though he was not present for the interview.
The jury also was shown a similar interview with Joseph Mehl, an alleged Pagan associate and a co-defendant who, like Treacy, has pleaded guilty.
Throughout the trial, now in its third week, O'Brien has challenged the tactics, motivation and honesty of federal authorities. He has labeled those who investigated him "bullies." The tapes in which verbal pressure is put on those being questioned might be O'Brien's attempt to demonstrate that.
But his approach, time-consuming, repetitive and unfocused, may ultimately turn the jury off. One member appeared to be napping during this afternoon's session.
On the tape, Treacy denied selling pills he had obtained with prescriptions written by O'Brien. But he subsequently pleaded guilty and admitted to exactly that. While he is not listed as a cooperating witness, several other co-defendants are expected to take the stand and provide details about the pill mill operation and O'Brien's central role in it.
Treacy, who is in jail awaiting sentencing, could have bigger problems if the FBI is able to tie him to the Imbo-Petrone disappearance or the Rongione-Spering double homicide.
Imbo, 34, of Mount Laurel, and Petrone, 35, of Philadelphia, disappeared without a trace after leaving the Abilene bar on South Street on Feb. 19, 2005. Petrone's black Dodge Dakota pickup truck, the vehicle he was driving that night, also has never been found.
Despite a $50,000 reward, authorities have had little to go on since the disappearance was reported. Investigators believe the two were targets in a contract killing and not victims of a random act of violence.
The same could be said of the Rongione-Spering murders, according to investigative sources.
The two men were found were bullet shots to the head in a house in the 600 block of Fitzgerald Street in South Philadelphia three years ago. Testimony and court documents allege that O'Brien was trying to collect an $11,000 debt from Rongione and sent Treacy and Mehl to get the money. The men showed up at Rongione's home on Jan. 17, 2013, armed with a pipe and brass knuckles but fled when neighbors called police. The confrontation was picked up on a neighbor's security surveillance camera.
A day later, Ronigione and Spering were found murdered.
"Remember Sammy the Bull," Roselli said to Treacy during the July interview, apparently making the point that even a notorious mob hitman like Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano was able to work a deal with the government. Gravano admitted to 19 murders.
Roselli told Treacy that federal authorities might be able to help him if he cooperated. The agent also noted that authorities sometimes "put the hammer down on people until they break." Treacy insisted he had not killed anyone and was not interested in cooperating.
The tape was played as part of O'Brien's third tedious day of cross-examination of agent Gill, a member of the task force that built the case against O'Brien. The doctor, slogging through records, tapes and medical files, has scored some minor legal points. But he is still faced with the fundamental issue at the heart of the investigation, an issue that Gill has returned to again and again during his cross-examination.
On more than a dozen occasions, Gill has used his testimony to reinforce the government's position that O'Brien knew when he wrote the scripts that his "patients" intended to sell the drugs.
Asked about Roselli's interview of Treacy, Gill adroitly replied that he had no way of knowing what Roselli was thinking when he asked a question, nor did he know the purpose of the question.
"Ask Agent Roselli, I don't know," he said at one point.
When O'Brien asked if Treacy was a suspect in a double homicide, Gill replied, "I can't discuss an ongoing investigation."
When he asked if Treacy had been arrested for murder, Gill said, "As of today, he has not been charged."
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.