Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Skinny Joey" Takes A Hit At SugarHouse

No more blackjack for Joey.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Amateur Hour As Jury Convicts Pill Doctor

By Ralph Cipriano

It was a fitting end to a bizarre trial that featured a novice judge and a pill-pushing doctor who insisted on representing himself as his own lawyer.

It took the jury an incredible two hours tonight to read a verdict that found the doctor who allegedly ran a pill mill that catered to outlaw bikers and strippers guilty on 123 out of 127 counts.

Why did it take two hours? Because Judge Nitza Quinones, who was confirmed in June 2013 and has had limited experience presiding over federal criminal trials, had the court clerk read every word of every count out loud, including all the relevant titles, codes and statutes, and then ask the jury foreman whether the jury had reached a unanimous verdict on each count of guilty or not guilty.

As a result, the court clerk stated a mind-numbing 121 times that Dr. William J. O'Brien 3d was accused of violating Title 21 of the United States Code, Section 841, by distributing controlled substances while operating "outside the usual course of medical practice," and prescribing controlled substances for "no legitimate medical purpose." Amateur hour continued when the court clerk polled the jury, and read the name of every juror out loud, rather that follow the usual custom and refer to jurors by numbers.

By the end of the reading of the two hour verdict, one juror was slumped over; others were dazed and staring off into space. Court observers were shaking their heads and saying they had never seen anything like it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going 
on in the courts.

By Logan Beck

A family services worker was responsible for transporting and supervising court-ordered visits between a young mother and her son, according to Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.

He allegedly used this position to have sex with the young mother in March and April 2016.

Lamont King, 39, of Trenton, N.J. is being charged with official misconduct and has been suspended without pay after an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau South Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

O'Brien Plays Trump Card In Pill Mill Defense

By George Anastasia

Dr. William O'Brien compared himself to Donald Trump today while challenging bankruptcy fraud and money-laundering charges that are part of his ongoing pill mill trial.

O'Brien, who is representing himself, was in the midst of a heated exchange with retired FBI agent Kevin Kane this afternoon when he used a Trump reference to try to put his own financial situation in perspective.

 O'Brien seemed to be contending that while his medical practice was in bankruptcy back in 2012, other companies he controlled were not and earnings from one could potentially offset losses from another.

"Do you know Donald Trump, who is running for president right now?" O'Brien asked, referring to the presumptive Republican Party nominee. "Some of his companies were in bankruptcy and others were not in bankruptcy. Did you know that?"

Kane, who withstood nearly three hours of pointed cross-examination without appearing flustered, brushed the question aside.

"I didn't investigate Donald Trump," he replied.

While Hillary Clinton supporters might wish he had, Kane said his focus during the nearly three-year probe was O'Brien, the 53-year-old doctor who authorities say turned his pain management medical practice into an illegal and highly lucrative drug dispensing operation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Verdict On Chaka

By Ralph Cipriano

The jury filed into Courtroom 16A at 12:20 p.m.

The staff had ordered lunch, but none of the jurors wanted to stay. Instead, they preferred to read the verdict and get out of the courthouse as fast as possible.

The jury foreman, a middle-aged male, stood and read the results of the 19-page verdict form.

On Count 1, Congressman Chaka Fattah was unanimously found guilty of conspiracy to commit racketeering. The foreman kept reading the verdicts on six more charges under Count 1 for Fattah, including: guilty of mail fraud, guilty of wire fraud, guilty of bank fraud, guilty of bribery, guilty of obstruction of justice, and guilty of money laundering.

Fattah stared straight ahead and showed no reaction. When co-defendant Herb Vederman was found guilty of conspiracy to commit racketeering, however, his sister started crying.

"No outbursts," Judge Harvey Bartle 3d warned spectators. While the jury foreman continued to read five more guilty verdicts for Vederman under Count 1, his sister left the courtroom still crying.


Doctor Vs. Doctor At Pill Mill Trial

By George Anastasia

It was a second opinion that Dr. William O'Brien 3d didn't want to hear.

Dr. Stephen M. Thomas, a Stanford Medical School trained pain management clinician called as an expert witness by the prosecution in O'Brien's ongoing pill mill trial, systematically ripped apart O'Brien's prescription practice, repeatedly telling the jury that his analysis indicated the drugs O'Brien prescribed were not "medically legitimate."

At one point during his day-long stint on the witness stand, Thomas referred to what O'Brien did in his office as "drug dealing."  At other times, he read from the charts of O'Brien's "patients" and then commented on the drugs prescribed.

"This combination will scramble your brain," he said of a combined prescription for oxycodone, methadone, Xanax and Adderall. "And at these doses it's dangerous."

Of another, he said, "Not consistent with legitimate medical diagnosis . . . Not medically necessary."

And of a chart that showed continual increases in the dosages, he added, "This is a pattern for addiction or diversion (selling the pills)." Still later, of a similar situation, he said, "Something else, that is non medical, is driving that."

The clash of the two doctors, which included sharp verbal exchanges and lengthy philosophical ruminations, is expected to continue when the trial resumes Wednesday morning.

The prosecution hopes to use Thomas' testimony to undermine O'Brien's now beleaguered defense. Despite a half dozen witnesses who have testified to the contrary, including O'Brien's own office manager, O'Brien has continued to argue that he was practicing legitimate medicine and had no idea some of his patients were selling the pills he prescribed.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Another Dancer Details Sex With Pill Doctor

By Ralph Cipriano

She was a former strip club dancer, dark and slender, with waist-length, jet-black hair.

From the witness stand, Kathleen Reeves, 31, told a story about being a young mom who became addicted to prescription painkillers under the care of Dr. William O'Brien 3d.

When the pill doctor ran out of medical reasons to keep treating her, Reeves said, the doctor suggested a business arrangement.

"He said that if I gave him a blow job," she told the jury, "He would continue to prescribe" oxycodone and methadone for her.

"I was so sick, I couldn't function without them," she said about the pills. In the throes of her addiction, "I did things that I would never normally do."

That included providing oral sex to the pill doctor on several occasions.

"I had no choice," she told the jury. " I couldn't get the medication" without a prescription. "I was in too deep."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going on in the courts.

By Logan Beck

U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey:

Sexual assault can happen anywhere at anytime as evidenced by current events, even in the most unlikely places . . . such as on an airplane.

A New York man faces charges after being accused of sexually abusing a woman on an airplane flying from Tel Aviv, Israel to New York according to the United States Attorney’s Office.

Yoel Oberlander, 35 was seated next to a woman and her mother on a plane on May 29. Oberlander allegedly placed his hands on the woman’s thighs and breasts without her consent, resulting in a criminal complaint with one count of abusive sexual contact.

However, this is not Oberlander’s first offense.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Heroin Addict Says She Gave Sex For Script

By George Anastasia

She was six months pregnant with the ugly track marks of her heroin addiction running down both her arms.

She said she wanted methadone to help break her habit.

He said he'd write a script . . . for a blow job.

She agreed.

In some of the grittiest and personally damaging testimony to date, former strip club dancer Deanna Lane told a federal jury yesterday how she exchanged a "sexual favor" for medication in the office of  William O'Brien 3d, the pain management doctor now on trial for conspiracy and drug dealing in what authorities say was a multi-million dollar pill mill operation.

"He locked the door," Lane, 28, said of the office visit late one afternoon back in September 2014.

Lane said previous visits for medications that included oxycodone and Xanax had come with a $200 co-pay. But on this day, O'Brien had a different currency in mind.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Witness: "Everybody And Their Mother Knows You Did Wrong"

By Logan Beck

Much like a teacher becoming suspicious of school children cheating on their spelling tests, pharmacies began to question the legitimacy of Dr. William O’Brien’s narcotics prescriptions. 

That's the story Bernard Varallo, a cooperating witness for the government, told a jury yesterday during the ongoing "Pill Mill" trial of Dr. O'Brien in federal court.

According to Varallo, a co-conspirator who has already pleaded guilty, patients were unable to “cash the scrips” or “fill the prescriptions” without other prescriptions such as anti-constipation and anti-inflammatory medication to offset the narcotics.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Defense: No Credible Evidence To Implicate Congressman

By Ralph Cipriano

A lawyer for  Congressman Chaka Fattah told a jury today that there is "no credible evidence" that implicates Fattah in any wrongdoing.

After a four-week trial that included 58 government witnesses, and more than 400 exhibits, the government has "utterly failed to meet its burden of proof" to show that the congressman was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of engaging in racketeering, wire fraud, and taking bribes, Samuel W. Silver said in his closing argument.

During its investigation, the government reviewed more than 170,000 of the congressman's emails, Silver said. And what did they find? Not one email that implicates Fattah in any crime, Silver said. While a prosecutor accused Fattah and four co-defendants of embarking on a "white collar crime spree," Silver had a different take on the government's case.

"I call it a smear," Silver said. "It's all an overreach by the prosecution."

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what’s going on in the courts
By Logan Beck
For BigTrial.Net

Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General:
Seven individuals from Carbon and Lehigh counties were charged with distributing extreme amounts of methamphetamine.

The head of the operation, Edilberto Ortiz Jr., of Allentown, was determined to be the main distributor as he gave the illicit drugs to six other dealers between January and March. The Office of Attorney General Bureau of Narcotics Investigation, the Carbon County Drug Task Force, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted the investigation, using confidential informants and observations of methamphetamine purchases, leading to several court-approved search warrants.

After searching a residence where Ortiz was staying, more than four pounds of methamphetamine were taken from the premises, in addition to a .32 caliber handgun, various drug paraphernalia, and about $2,400 in cash.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Murder, Mayhem And Dr. Seuss At Pill Mill Trial

By George Anastasia

They were, according to the government, partners in crime, co-conspirators in a pill mill operation that generated millions of dollars in illegal drug sales.

But today they found themselves on opposite sides of a high stakes legal battle. Michael "Tomato Pie" Thompson was on the witness stand in U.S. District Court and Dr. William O'Brien, acting as his own attorney, was firing questions in a cross-examination that touched on strippers, Pagans, murder, kidnapping and the Dr. Seuss' children's classic "The Cat in the Hat."

Thompson, 50, a South Philadelphia tow truck operator, has been outed during the trial as a police informant who was feeding information to authorities about the Pagans, the outlaw motorcycle gang that made millions from the pill mill operation.

"You want to hang the Pagans but you don't want them to know it's you," O'Brien asked while questioning Thompson about a lengthy interview he gave to authorities shortly after his arrest in the pill mill case.

Thompson acknowledged that the bikers had at one time put a $5,000 contract out on him and that part of the plot was a plan to kidnap his daughter.

"They wanted to kill me and to get to me they were going to use my daughter," Thompson said.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Jury Hears Fake Legit Description Of Pill Mill Operation

By George Anastasia

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.


Rendell At The Chaka Trial: "A Horrible Prosecutorial Overreach"

The Philadelphia Inquirer/Ed Hille
By Ralph Cipriano

The way Ed Rendell tells the story, Herb Vederman came to him for advice.

"He wanted to get back into city government," Rendell explained on the witness stand about Vederman, a rich guy who served for years as Rendell's unpaid deputy mayor for economic development.

At the time, five Democrats were running for mayor of Philadelphia. And Vederman asked Rendell the political sage to pick the eventual winner.

Congressman Chaka Fattah "was the clear front-runner," Rendell testified he told Vederman. "He was well known and well-regarded." Rendell's advice to Vederman was to get involved with Fattah early in the 2007 mayoral campaign. So that when Fattah won, Vederman could go back to work in city government as Fattah's deputy mayor for economic development. Just like he did for Rendell.

But Fast Eddie sold Herbie a bum steer. Fattah wound up finishing fourth out of five candidates, behind eventual winner Michael Nutter. And what was Vederman's reward for getting involved with Chaka Fattah?  A co-starring role in a 29-count RICO indictment that had the congressman at the top of the ticket.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sister Mary Goes To Bat For "Ambassador" Herb

By Ralph Cipriano

If you're on trial for racketeering in Philadelphia and you need a character witness, it's hard to beat Sister Mary Scullion.

The longtime homeless advocate whose fans include Pope Francis, President Obama, and Jon Bon Jovi showed up at the trial of Congressman Chaka Fattah today to go to bat for one of Fattah's co-defendants, former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herb Vederman.

"It's widely known that he [Vederman] performs acts of generosity on many occasions," the Sister of Mercy nun told the jury. On the witness stand, Sister Mary described Vederman as a "good friend of mine" that she last saw a few weeks ago.

A nosy prosecutor immediately asked at that last get-together, if the nun and Vederman had discussed Vederman's racketeering case.

 "I was just asking how he was doing, the nun replied dismissively. "Everybody knows there's a trial going on."

The prosecutor wisely let it go at that.


Judge Tosses Defamation Case Filed By Reinstated Cops

Grandstanding Public Officials Cleared In Civil Case
By Ralph Cipriano

U.S. District Court Judge Paul S. Diamond has dismissed a defamation and false light suit filed by six reinstated police officers and their supervisor against District Attorney R. Seth Williams, former Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and former Mayor Michael A. Nutter.

The lawsuit, Robert G. Otto, et al., v. R. Seth Williams et al. sought monetary and punitive damages for irresponsible "grandstanding" and some epic tarring and feathering done by the three city officials named in the suit, according to an amended complaint filed last July 24th in U.S. District Court by Philadelphia lawyer Christopher D. Mannix.

But on Monday, Judge Diamond entered a one-page decision on the court docket granting a motion by the defendants, which included the city of Philadelphia, to dismiss the complaint "with prejudice."

"The clerk shall close this case," the judge wrote.

Lawyers for the district attorney and the city could not be reached for comment. But in a telephone interview tonight, Mannix, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, didn't sound like he was ready to wave the white flag.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Imbo-Petrone Disappearance May Be Linked To Pagans

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."

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Day Long Duel Between Doctor and Federal Agent

By Shealyn Kilroy 

Special Agent Joshua Gill wasn't taking the attorney role of Dr. William O'Brien 3d seriously.

O'Brien had been asking how the agents could determine how much medication was too much to be prescribed considering the agents weren't doctors. It was a subject that O'Brien returned to all Friday during his day-long cross-examination.

Gill would start his responses with, "How many times do I have to answer this . . ." accompanied by rants that were fast and empty.

"Based on my investigative experience, what you were prescribing was not the proper amount," Gill said, irritated.

"We saw patterns! There was patterns..." Gill said, ranting again.

“Time out!” Judge Nitza Quinones ordered.

Excusing the jury, Judge Quinones had had enough of Gill’s comments made on the stand in his answers 
that would continuously spark verbal arguments during O’Brien's day-long cross-examination.

“This is my courtroom and I can do what I want,” Judge Quinones said, reminding Gill that it was her decision to allow O’Brien to represent himself.

It was the first time during the two-week trial that Judge Quinones had to chastise a witness.


"This Was No Accident"

Philly mag has an excellent story out, "This Was No Accident," about the building collapse on Market Street that killed seven people.

The story focuses on L&I, the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, that allows tragedies like this to happen every few years as the "hidden cost" of doing business in the city. The corruption at L&I, and the politicians who have enabled it, have been a hot topic on this blog:

"I Came Here To Speak For Dead People"-- former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin takes City Council on a 20-year journey through a trail of dead bodies and entirely preventable catastrophes that began with the Merdian fire.

Contractors Run Amok While L&I Promotes Commerce -- more lack of accountability and scandal at the city's worst agency.

L&I Snoozes While Demolition Site Across The Street From A City High School Becomes A Land Fill; Then A Bloody Crime Scene -- A 19-year-old is murdered at a notorious neighborhood dumping ground.
Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Roundup

A weekly tab of what's going 
on in the courts.

By Logan Beck 

New Jersey Attorney General:

On June 2, a Las Vegas man admitted to a $5 million fraud scheme, pleading guilty in Newark Federal Court to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud. 

Lee Vaccaro, 44, of Las Vegas, Nevada served as the chief marketing officer and vice president of investor relations for a company based in California known as eAgency. Vaccaro used eAgency to sell investors interests in companies that he controlled.

Vaccaro, however, did not act alone.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Doctor Clashes With Federal Agent Over Blow Job Conspiracy

By George Anastasia

Call it the blow job conspiracy.

And, depending on your point of view, consider it one of the high points or low points of the ongoing pill mill trial of Dr. William O'Brien 3d.

O'Brien, who is representing himself, clashed repeatedly today with Joshua Gill, an investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services, as a federal court jury watched and listened to a cross-examination that was in turns nasty, bizarre, sarcastic and petty. And, at times, effective.

Gill, a veteran investigator with a Clint Eastwood demeanor, will be back on the stand when the trial resumes on Friday. Working for the Office of the Inspector General he is part of the federal task force that built the case against O'Brien.

"Do you guys get a book on the bullshit that you say?" O'Brien asked after nearly two hours of verbal sparring with the bearded agent.

Gill, whose facial expression seldom changed, didn't have to answer that question because an objection by the prosecution was sustained by the judge. But the witness and the doctor immediately got into a heated debate over O'Brien's admitted attempt to trade a higher dosage prescription of Xanax for oral sex.

The "patient," however, was an undercover FBI agent who was secretly taping the office visit in which the doctor suggested "blues (the higher dosage pill) for a blow."  What O'Brien wanted to know from Gill today was where that solicitation fit in the 140-count indictment against him.

It was, the agent said, part of the conspiracy charge at the top of the indictment.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Blues For A Blow, Part Deux

By Ralph Cipriano

On Oct. 2, 2014, FBI Special Agent Heather Whelan was operating undercover inside a suspected "pill mill," trying to talk Dr. William O'Brien 3rd into writing her a prescription for extra-strength Xanax, known as "blues."

Dr. O'Brien's response, as captured on an undercover surveillance tape, was to proposition the undercover agent, offering "Blues for a blow."

Today in court, Dr. O'Brien, acting as his own lawyer, got to cross-examine Agent Whelan about his proposition that went nowhere.

From the defense table, O'Brien recalled that the FBI agent had offered him an extra $100 for "blues," but that he wrote out the prescription for her anyway, without taking the money.

"I give you the blue Xanax," O'Brien told Whelan. "I still don't get the blow job?"

"Objection," yelled an indignant Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Beth Leahy. "She's an FBI agent."

"Overruled," said Judge Nitza Quinones, who couldn't stop laughing at the doctor's antics.

"Correct," said Special Agent Whelan, as she stared down the doctor from the witness stand.