By George Anastasia
A federal judge sentenced pill mill doctor William J. O'Brien 3d to 30 years in prison today for running a multi-million dollar drug trafficking operation with the Pagans outlaw motorcycle gang and for contributing to the death of a patient by prescribing what authorities said was a "lethal' combination of pain medications.
O'Brien, jailed since his arrest in January 2015, showed little remorse during the two-hour hearing before Judge Nitza Quinones. On the contrary, the 51-year-old doctor, who had represented himself during a six-week trial that ended in June, insisted he was innocent and continued to rant against prosecutors and investigators who he said lied and fabricated evidence to build the case against him.
O'Brien was found guilty of 123 of the 127 counts he faced, including multiple counts of drug trafficking. He was also found guilty of money-laundering and lying in a bankruptcy proceeding.
"I don't show remorse because I did nothing wrong," he said in a statement to the court during today's proceeding.
The hearing included an emotional victim impact statement from the sister of Joseph Ennis who died in December 2013 while under O'Brien's care. Ennis was being treated for pain after being hit by a van while walking in a snow storm, his family said. The judge also heard victim impact statements from a go-go dancer who had testified during O'Brien's trial and from O'Brien's former wife, Kathleen.
The 30-year sentence, which will keep O'Brien jailed until he is in his 70s, was less than the life sentence federal prosecutor had sought.
Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Beth Leahy argued that a life sentence was "fully justified" and warranted given the crimes for which O'Brien was convicted.
"He did not care one bit" about the people who were addicted to the pain medication that he prescribed and that members of the Pagans sold on the streets. Instead, she said, "He cared about money and he cared about power."
Ennis, she said, was one of two patients who died while under his care. She also said there were other "victims," including several women, like the go-go dancer, who said O'Brien wrote prescriptions for them in exchange for oral sex.
Part of the evidence introduced during the six-week trial included a tape made by an FBI undercover agent posing as a patient. The woman agent asked for an increase in the Xanax O'Brien was prescribing. The larger dose was known as a "blue," apparently because of the color of the pill.
On the tape, which was played for the jury, O'Brien suggested "a blue for a blow." The agent turned down the offer, but Leahy said several other women, some already addicted, did not or could not.
She also pointed to another tape in which O'Brien threatened Anthony Rongione, a patient who owed him money. On the tape, O'Brien told Rongione, "I'll hunt you down like a dog and I'll hurt you."
Later, Rongione was confronted by two members of the Pagans armed with brass knuckles and a baseball bat. The bikers, she said, had been sent by O'Brien to collect the money. They fled, however, after neighbors in South Philadelphia came to Rongione's aid.
What Leahy did not mention is that a day later, Rongione and another man were shot and killed in his home. Those murders are still under investigation.
In his comments to the court, O'Brien said he was just beginning his fight. He said he would appeal his conviction and that he would again represent himself in a medical insurance fraud trial set to begin before Judge Quinones in January.
He accused prosecutors and investigators of "flat out lies" and said they had abused the justice system. He said he was treating Joseph Ennis for pain and did not contributed to his death, claiming Ennis had taken more medication than he had prescribed.
"I'm a physician," he said. "I didn't kill anyone...I did the best I could."
Authorities, however, said O'Brien conspired with members of the Pagans in a pill mill operation that dumped tens of thousands of prescription pills on the streets. In a scheme worked out between O'Brien and members of the biker gang, O'Brien would charge $200 per visit for "patients" sent to him by the bikers. Few, if any, had any real medical problems and O'Brien seldom conducted an examination, authorities said.
Instead, he would write prescriptions for oxycodone, methadone, Percocet and Xanax for those patients who would turn the drugs over to the Pagans. The patients, on average, were paid $500 by the bikers. Authorities alleged that O'Brien pocked $1.8 million during the three years the scheme was in operation while some members of the Pagans were bringing in $10,000-a-week by selling the drugs on the street.
Leahy said today that O'Brien had violated his oath and the trust legitimate patients placed in him.
One of those patients, she said, was Joseph Ennis.
Ennis's sister, Bridget Shaw, offered an impassioned plea for a strong sentence.
Shaw told the court that her brother was a "handsome, charming, daring, brave and always our hero." With seven other family members standing behind her as she addressed the court, she said to O'Brien:
"While you were setting up your practices as a façade to help, Joey was assisting autistic children and families, painting in his studio or setting up his sign business.
"While you were comfortable in your latest medicine scheme, Joey was hit by a van in a snowstorm and sent to you by his lawyer.
"While you were acting like a caring doctor to reel him in, Joey was looking to you for help.
"While you were prescribing a careless concoction to line your pockets, Joey was trusting you would safely take away his pain. Instead you stopped his heart.
"While you were taking vacations and hiding money, we were trying to celebrate Christmas for our children while planning his funeral still wondering what could've possibly happened...The death of our brother was only a small piece of this extensive federal trial - depicting all the disgusting things that you did. Joey was a good hearted, fun-loving person. No one loved life more...Our brother was not an addict, he was a patient relying on you for help."
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.