It was "fake legit," an associate of the Pagans motorcycle gang told a federal jury today in describing the pain management operation run by Dr. William O'Brien 3d in South Philadelphia, Trevose and Levittown.
"We acted legit, but we were really fake," explained Michael "Tomato Pie" Thompson in what was perhaps the most devastating testimony thus far in the three-week old conspiracy/drug dealing trial of O'Brien who is charged with running a multi-million dollar pill mill in conjunction with members of the outlaw motorcycle club.
Thompson's testimony, which will continue when the trial resumes tomorrow, came after a South Philadelphia waitress and a strip club dancer both told the jury that they were "patients" of O'Brien as part of a scheme to obtain drugs that others would sell on the streets.
All three witnesses said O'Brien was aware of and played a willing role in the scam.
"One hundred percent," the quick talking Thompson said when asked by Assistant U.
S. Attorney M. Beth Leahy if O'Brien knew what was going on. In fact, he said, O'Brien increased his "fee" from $100- or $150-a-visit while running an office at 18th and Jackson to $200-a-visit after moving to another location at Broad and Porter.
"Forty patients at $200, that's $8,000-a-day," Thompson said while detailing the scheme in which he and other members or associates of the Pagans brought "patients" to the Broad Street office.
Thompson, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy and drug charges in the current case, said the Broad Street office was opened two days a week and that he was there every day in part "to keep the riff raff out" and also to expedite the visits of patients he and other members of the conspiracy brought to O'Brien.
A tow-truck operator with prior convictions for aggravated assault and drug dealing, Thompson, 50, said he was introduced to the pill mill scheme by the late Sam Nocille, a vice president of the Pagans who was receiving kickbacks from dozens of those involved. Nocille died in prison in 2014.
Thompson also pleaded guilty to health care fraud, admitting that he used his Medicaid insurance to pay for the prescriptions written by O'Brien.
In all, authorities allege that the doctor, who is representing himself at trial, pocked $1.8 million during the three-year scam while some members of the Pagans were making $10,000-a-week selling the oxycodone, methadone, Percocet and Xanax that he prescribed.
Thompson said he first visited O'Brien as a patient, claiming to be a cousin of Nocille, the Pagan vice president. While he was not related, he said that was a way to let O'Brien know "I was part of Sammy's group."
He said Nocille would pay him between $500 and $1,000 for the prescriptions he obtained from O'Brien. The Pagans, he said, would then "cash the prescriptions" (their term for having the prescriptions filled) and sell the drugs on the street. Thompson said he rose through the ranks and eventually was sending his own patients to O'Brien and, through an agreement with Nocille, was permitted to keep the bulk of the profits from those drugs sales.
But, he added, "everybody was kicking up to Sammy."
In a taped prison telephone conversation played for the jury earlier in the trial, Nocille, who died of a heart attack, is heard complaining about others not kicking up and boasting about kickbacks of more than $2,000-a-week.
Thompson also described O'Brien as someone who was fascinated with the Pagans.
"He wanted power around him," he said. He also, at one point, pestered Nocille and others for a "Pagans t-shirt." It's unclear if the doctor ever got the shirt, but authorities contend he got plenty of cash dealing with the bikers and their associates.
"We had an investment in him," Thompson said while explaining why he and others, at Nocille's request, helped O'Brien find another South Philadelphia location after he was forced to leave the office at 18th and Jackson.
Thompson described himself as the defacto office manager, claiming that "everything ran smooth (at the Broad Street office) cause I was there." The jury was also shown several surveillance photos of Thompson outside the office on Broad Street in apparent discussions with O'Brien and other members of the allegedly conspiracy.
Part of his job, he said, was to "make sure no outsiders came in" and to insure that the patients he, Nocille and others sent to the doctor were seen quickly and did not have to wait. After an initial visit, he told the jury, patients were sometimes able to get a renewal prescription without even showing up.
"When our patients would come, they would go in first," he said. "We always went first. We never waited."
"I tried to keep in legit," he said of the appearance he wanted at the office, but then added, "It was never legit. It was always crooked."
The jury also heard varying versions of the same story from Veronica Virgilio, the South Philadelphia waitress, and Justina Pettis, a dancer/bartender at the Fox Gentleman's Club in Bath, PA, more than a hour's drive from Philadelphia.
Virgilio said she was sent to O'Brien by Charles Johnson, her sometime boyfriend. Johnson has pleaded guilty and is a potential witness. She told the jury she agreed to go because Johnson kept pressuring her.
"Pretty much it was just to get prescriptions," she said, adding that she never took the pills. Johnson, she said, would sell them. She said O'Brien prescribed oxycodone and methadone to treat pain related to a car accident. (Her vehicle had been struck by a Coca Cola truck, she said.). But she said she was not in pain and did not need the medication.
She said O'Brien knew that because Johnson had set up the visits.
"I never opened the bag, I knew touched the medication," she said of the prescriptions that she or Johnson had filled after each visit. "I never took any of them."
Pettis said she was taken to O'Brien's Levittown office by the owner of the Fox Gentleman's Club where she worked. Like Virgilio, she said the visit was pre-arranged and was solely designed to obtain prescriptions.
She said the club owner, Tom McHugh, a former boyfriend, paid her $1,500 for the prescriptions. She said at least seven other workers at the club - dancers and managers - were also "patients" and that the oxycodone and other prescription pills were sometimes sold at the club.
Wearing a conservative black, sleeveless dress, her brown hair tied in a bun at the back of her head, Pettis, 29, said she needed the money because she was a single mother with three children, including one child who is autistic.
She said when she was first questioned by federal authorities she denied she was involved in a scam, but later admitted it.
Under cross-examination by O'Brien, she said she told him she was suffering from back pain and anxiety during her initial visit, but said that was part of the scam.
"I have back pain," she said, "but I honestly don't like to take pills."
Several other dancers are expected to be called as witnesses as the trial continues. At least two, according to court documents, will tell the jury that they exchange sex for prescriptions, with O'Brien seeking a blow job in lieu of the $200 visitation fee.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.