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- 05/25/16--18:38: _Another Cooperating...
- 05/26/16--16:58: _Senator Casey Said ...
- 05/28/16--16:42: _The Roundup
- 05/30/16--03:04: _The Poster Boy For ...
- 05/30/16--11:46: _Pill Doctor Prescri...
- 05/31/16--15:14: _Informant Calls Doc...
- 05/31/16--17:46: _On The Trail of Cha...
- 06/01/16--15:56: _Blues For A Blow, P...
- 06/02/16--16:59: _Doctor Clashes With...
- 06/04/16--07:02: _The Roundup
- 06/05/16--03:24: _"This Was No Accident"
- 06/05/16--14:48: _The Day Long Duel B...
- 06/06/16--14:43: _Imbo-Petrone Disapp...
- 06/07/16--16:25: _Judge Tosses Defama...
- 06/07/16--18:19: _Sister Mary Goes To...
- 06/08/16--14:02: _Rendell At The Chak...
- 06/08/16--15:22: _Jury Hears Fake Leg...
- 06/09/16--16:45: _Murder, Mayhem And ...
- 06/10/16--19:10: _The Roundup
- 06/13/16--18:08: _Defense: No Credibl...
- 05/25/16--18:38: Another Cooperating Witness Fingers Chaka
- 05/26/16--16:58: Senator Casey Said No To "Ambassador" Herb
- 05/28/16--16:42: The Roundup
- 05/30/16--03:04: The Poster Boy For Sex Abuse In Pennsylvania
- 05/30/16--11:46: Pill Doctor Prescribes Percocet and Wine for Headaches
- 05/31/16--15:14: Informant Calls Doctor `Drug Dealer' At Pill Mill Trial
- 05/31/16--17:46: On The Trail of Chaka and Renee's Au Pair
- 06/01/16--15:56: Blues For A Blow, Part Deux
- 06/02/16--16:59: Doctor Clashes With Federal Agent Over Blow Job Conspiracy
- 06/04/16--07:02: The Roundup
- 06/05/16--03:24: "This Was No Accident"
- 06/05/16--14:48: The Day Long Duel Between Doctor and Federal Agent
- 06/06/16--14:43: Imbo-Petrone Disappearance May Be Linked To Pagans
- 06/07/16--16:25: Judge Tosses Defamation Case Filed By Reinstated Cops
- 06/07/16--18:19: Sister Mary Goes To Bat For "Ambassador" Herb
- 06/08/16--14:02: Rendell At The Chaka Trial: "A Horrible Prosecutorial Overreach"
- 06/08/16--15:22: Jury Hears Fake Legit Description Of Pill Mill Operation
- 06/09/16--16:45: Murder, Mayhem And Dr. Seuss At Pill Mill Trial
- 06/10/16--19:10: The Roundup
- 06/13/16--18:08: Defense: No Credible Evidence To Implicate Congressman
By Ralph Cipriano
Mark M. Lee, a lawyer for Congressman Chaka Fattah, asked Greg Naylor about his negotiations with the government. And what the feds told Naylor he could expect to gain from his guilty plea, cooperation with the government, and his testimony in court today against the congressman.
"I don't believe they [the feds] had any interest in what I had to gain," Naylor bluntly replied. His discussions with the government prior to his guilty plea, he said, was "not a negotiation." Not after he got caught lying to the FBI.
Naylor, a retired political operative who was once close to Fattah, testified in federal court today about how he handed out about $200,000 in cash on Election Day, known as "walking around money," when the congressman was running for mayor of Philadelphia back in 2007. And how he wrote more than $20,000 in checks to cover the college tuition bills of Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr.
The payments, which originally derived from campaign cash, came from Naylor's political consulting firm, Sydney Lei & Associates Inc., and were usually made on a monthly basis to Drexel University and Sallie Mae, the student loan corporation, Naylor testified.
Why did he steal campaign money to write checks to cover Chip Fattah's college loans, and then try to cover it up afterwards with a phony paper trail?
"The congressman asked if I would help out," Naylor explained in direct testimony under the questioning of Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray. Naylor said he kept writing checks for four years until the congressman told him, "We're done, we're good."
"Anybody ever tell you Chip had a gambling problem," the prosecutor asked.
"No," Naylor replied. As part of the scam, Naylor testified, "I made false 1099 forms" and sent them to "Chip." Even though Naylor testified that Chip Fattah had done no work for Sydney Lei & Associates. Naylor added that he after he made the payments on the college loans, he told Chip Fattah, "He should pay the taxes on it."
After the prosecutor got throughout questioning Naylor, his story held up under cross-examination from four defense lawyers. That was more bad news for the congressman formerly known as Arthur Davenport.
On cross-examination, Mark M. Lee, on behalf of Congressman Fattah, tried to get Naylor to talk about the central fraud in the case. The plot to have Albert Lord, former Sallie Mae CEO, make a phony loan of $1 million to Thomas Lindenfeld, another political consultant close to Fattah. So that the Lord money could be used to pay the campaign expenses of Fattah's unsuccessful 2007 run for mayor. It's a plot that Lindenfeld has already testified was directed by Fattah.
Specifically, Lee asked if Naylor had once told the feds that it was Lindenfeld who originally told him about the $1 million loan.
There were "so many versions" of interviews with the feds about that loan, Naylor conceded. Asked about how many times he met with the feds, Naylor replied, "I'd say too many. But a lot."
"We've had this discussion many times," Naylor agreed with Lee.
But then Naylor definitively put the controversy to rest. About the phony $1 million loan, Naylor said his final testimony was: "I first learned of that through the congressman."
Over at the defense table, Chaka had taken another direct hit.
Naylor pleaded guilty in 2014 to three felony charges that included lying to the FBI, falsifying invoices to cover up the theft of $193,000 in federal funds [for use as campaign cash], and putting Chip Fattah on Naylor's payroll to cover up the use of more campaign cash to pay off the younger Fattah's student loans.
Chip Fattah, convicted in February of 22 counts of bank and tax fraud, was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.
The other defense lawyers didn't seem to be getting any further with Naylor on cross as the trial came to a close today.
Mira E. Baylson, a lawyer for Robert Brand, a Fattah confidante, got Naylor to agree that when he spoke to Lindenfeld about the loan, Lindenfeld had a "sense of urgency."
Probably about who was going to have to repay the loan. But that was it.
Ann Flannery, a lawyer for Karen Nicholas, a former Fattah aide, got Naylor to say that he never discussed that phony $1 million loan with her client.
Ronald H. Levine, a lawyer for Bonnie Bowser, Fattah's former chief of staff, asked Naylor if it was true that Bowser was "somewhat of a nag" about making sure that campaign finance records were accurate.
"I would say that is accurate," Naylor responded.
The Fattah trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. today in Courtroom 16A.
|Senator Casey at the Chaka trial/philly.com/David Swanson|
He's a former clothing store magnate and lobbyist who gravitates to politicians the way a groupie chases rock stars.
In the past decade, he's given away more than $100,000 to some of his favorite Democrats. But what he really wanted to do was become a U.S. ambassador.
Herb Vederman, Ed Rendell's former unpaid deputy mayor, was also best buddies with Congressman Chaka Fattah.
Herb and Chaka were so close that for years, Fattah pushed Vederman for an ambassador's post. The congressman went as far as to sign and hand-deliver a letter to President Obama on Oct. 30, 2010, advocating for Vederman's appointment as U.S. Ambassador to anywhere.
But standing in the way of Vederman's lifelong goal was U.S. Senator Bob Casey. The Pennsylvania Democrat made a VIP appearance at the Chaka Fattah trial today to explain how he declined Congressman Fattah's request to support Vederman's candidacy for an ambassadorship in 2008, even though Casey was happy to continue to accept campaign donations from Vederman. Herb was sure disappointed about not getting that ambassadorship, the senator testified, and he expressed that disappointment twice directly to Casey.
|Herb and his lawyer/philly.com/Yong Kim|
Aside from a couple of star cooperating witnesses who ratted out the congressman, the Chaka trial has been a relentlessly boring parade of government bureaucrats, accountants and auditors.
On the witness stand after lunch was another scintillating government witness. Jacqueline Rousseau was supervisory program manager from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA]'s Educational Partnership Program [EPP]. She was testifying about irregularities in a $50,000 grant procured for a Congressman Fattah conference on education.
Cue the yawns.
Suddenly, to accommodate Casey's schedule, the government put the NOAA-EPP wonk in a side room and ushered in the senator and his entourage.
It was an amazing moment at the Chaka trial. For once, everyone in the courtroom was conscious and listening to what the witness had to say.
According to the Fattah indictment, Vederman "dearly coveted" an ambassador post, so Fattah began lobbying on his behalf "almost as soon as the ballots were counted in the 2008 presidential election," the indictment said.
In a letter prepared for Fattah's signature, the indictment said, Fattah wrote that "Vederman was willing to serve as an ambassador almost anywhere in the world, including hardship posts."
One of those letters written by the congressman in support of Vederman was sent to Casey in 2008. The prosecutor read the letter in court today to the jury.
"The request was for an ambassadorship," Casey recalled. "You don't get many of those."
On the witness stand, Senator Casey acknowledged that he had been an early supporter of Barack Obama's campaign for president. As a result, after Obama won, people "probably" believed that Casey had pull with the president, the senator said.
Did Congressman Fattah ever personally lobby you on behalf of an ambassadorship for Vederman, the prosecutor asked.
"Not that I recall," the senator said.
How about Governor Rendell, the prosecutor asked.
"Not that I recall," the senator said.
Casey was in a position to aid Vederman in his quest for an ambassadorship, he said, because he's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But when Fattah wrote the senator seeking his support for an ambassador's post on behalf of Vederman, "I wasn't prepared to do that," the senator admitted, without explaining why.
It made for an awkward moment the next time he called Vederman to ask for more campaign cash, Casey told the jury.
"I called him to ask for support," Casey testified about Vederman. "He expressed disappointment" about not getting that ambassadorship, the senator said. "Not only disappointment but real frustration."
Another time, Casey said, he was on his way to a local campaign event when he ran into Vederman in the doorway.
"Vederman approached me about the position" of ambassador again, Casey said. And Vederman "expressed disappointment" that he "hadn't heard from the administration" about his candidacy for ambassador, Casey said.
On cross-examination, Samuel W. Silver, representing Congressman Fattah, had only one question for Senator Casey.
Was there anything wrong with Congressman Fattah requesting in a letter that the senator support Vederman for an ambassador's post?
"No," Casey said.
Silver sat down. Up next on cross was Catherine M. Recker, representing Vederman.
Since you were an early supporter of President Obama, Recker said, didn't you get a lot of requests from people seeking appointments who thought you had some kind of pull with the president?
"I would guess that I did," Casey said. He said that after Obama won the election, the senator received about 200 such requests from people seeking jobs in the new administration.
That was it for cross-examination. After some 20 minutes on the stand, the senator was dismissed as a witness by Judge Harvey Bartle III.
"Thanks very much for coming, Senator," the judge said.
Outside the courthouse, the senator told reporters he had no idea when Congessman Fattah was sponsoring Vederman for an ambassadorship that the feds would subsequently accuse Vederman of bribing the congressman.
"I was called to testify by the prosecution for the simple purpose of confirming the receipt of a letter from the congressman," Casey told Deanna Durante of NBC 10. "It was a simple matter to testify to."
In the Fattah indictment, Vederman is described as the former finance director of the ill-fated Fattah for mayor campaign of 2007. When the trial opened, a government prosecutor claimed that Congressman Fattah used Vederman like a "human ATM machine."
The government contends that despite the sale, the car remained in the TV anchor's garage.
"In exchange for Fattah's official action and influence, Vederman provided money to Fattah on multiple occasions," the indictment said. "Vederman also agreed to sponsor a visa for Fattah's live-in au pair and paid a portion of the au pair's college tuition," the indictment charges. Regarding the alleged bribe, the government accused Vederman of wiring an $18,000 payment so that Fattah could "deceive the Credit Union Mortgage Association, Inc. in qualifying for a mortgage on the purchase of a vacation home in the Poconos."
In response to the indictment, Vederman's lawyer has said that the government had cherry-picked and twisted the facts of a friendship into something sinister. That's why Vederman pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Vederman made his money in his family's clothing business, a nationwide chain of Fashion Bug stores. But then he got out of the business, became a consultant, and a lobbyist.
When Rendell ran for mayor in 1991, Vederman functioned as a full-time campaign aid, always riding with the candidate. In a 1996 interview, Rendell told The Philadelphia Inquirer why Herb was so valuable.
"Herb is one of the most solid and dependable people you'll ever want to meet and one of the most loyal friends you'll ever want to meet," Rendell told the Inquirer in 1996. "He was an invaluable fundraiser and he was also the mother hen of the campaign staff," Rendell said. "If someone had an insurance bill they couldn't pay because of low campaign salaries, Herb would pay the insurance bill. He has a great heart."
Prior to getting indicted with Fattah, Vederman's previous claim to fame was when he was implicated in the "Boobgate" scandal. That was the caper where Vederman and another Rendell aide got outed in the Philadelphia Daily News in 1996 for procuring three strippers for a bachelor party for Vederman's cousin.
"'Boobgate' scandal: Ed's aides star in topless fling," was the Daily News headline.
During the party, according to press accounts, strippers draped their breasts on top of an unsuspecting Vederman's head, prompting a new nickname for Vederman, "Herbie the Hat."
But all he really wanted to be was Ambassador Vederman. Instead, he wound up as Chaka Fattah's co-conspirator.
McLeod, as the “leader” of the sex trafficking ring, will receive the highest prison sentence to ensure that he can no longer harm victims.
As the Pennsylvania state Senate considers extending the statute of limitations for sex abuse victims to file civil lawsuits [the state House of Representatives has already passed the bill], it's a good time to reflect on the Billy Doe case. The former altar boy who told so many lies that he was featured coast-to-coast on the cover of Newsweek with a Pinocchio nose.
|I got mine|
Big Trial has led the way in exposing this fraud who put three priests and a schoolteacher in jail and scammed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia out of $5 million. And now Pennsylvania's lawmakers are contemplating a bill that would make it possible for more Billy Does to cash in.
Read all about it:
Newsweek: Outs Lying, Scheming Altar Boy; Philly's Altar Boy Scandal Gets Uglier.
Big Trial: How To Collect $5 Million From the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; The Stonewallers, the Conspiracy of Silence between the Archbishop, the D.A., and the Editor of the Inquirer.
|Photo Courtesy of DrugAddiction.com|
-- Half a capsule of Percocet
--One part muscle-relaxer Flexeril
The jury heard this alcoholic pill potpourri ordered on a video played in court on Friday for undercover informant Marion Murphy. Murphy, acting as a first time patient for the federal government, came to visit Dr. O’Brien for her “headaches.”
“With this, you won’t come back for a few months,” O’Brien said as he walked out of the office.
Before the jury watched the video recording, they sat all morning long through O’Brien’s convoluted cross-examination of Lisa Aninsman, a former office employee. After five years of working for O’Brien at his Bristol office, Aninsman quit after O’Brien’s practices made her feel uncomfortable, she said.
She didn’t have a problem with who O’Brien was treating, she testified, but she did have a problem with the amount of narcotics O’Brien was prescribing. Aninsman was at the doctor's office in September 2011 when it was invaded by more than 20 FBI agents.
O’Brien’s questions didn’t make enough sense to keep the jury’s attention. Judge Nitza Quinones confiscated two jurors’ cellphones [they were returned at the end of the day] and heads were seen drooping. O’Brien’s irrelevant questions never went far. Continuous objections from the government were the norm.
“Why is [Prosecutor Beth Leahy] objecting to my questions?” O’Brien asked his legal advisor George Neumann.
O’Brien asked Aninsman if she knew Tiger Woods, if she was Italian, or if she ever referred to him as the fat doctor.
“Probably when I quit,” Aninsman responded.
The judge butted in to answer O’Brien when he asked Aninsman if she ever heard the phrase, "You can indict a ham sandwich."
“I never even heard of it,” Judge Quinones replied to O’Brien’s question directed at Aninsman.
Before the court broke for lunch, O’Brien told the judge he’d need another two to three hours to cross examine Aninsman. But as trial resumed after, O’Brien finished in under an hour.
It wouldn’t be Memorial Day weekend without a trip to the Jersey Shore. Up to testify after Aninsman, FBI special agent Stephen Rich was one of the agents who executed a search warrant in January 2015 on O’Brien's alleged shore house in Long Beach Island. The government showed dozens of pictures taken during the search to the jury in efforts to show O’Brien’s monetary worth.
The three-story bay front home had a Mercedes Benz in one of the two car garages, three boxes of Don Perignon on the kitchen counter, and .38 caliber bullets found in the closet. Throughout the house. artwork by Pino of topless women hung on the walls. One Pino piece above the closet was an actual painting with a certificate of authenticity, Rich testified.
O’Brien frequently starts most of his questions with, “Would it surprise you if . . ." before telling the witness something personal about himself.
It didn’t surprise anyone when Rich started losing his patience with O’Brien.
“I’m not surprised or surprised,” Rich sternly fired back.
|Carrie and Big or Hibbs and O'Brien?|
“Have you ever seen the movie Sex and the City?” O’Brien asked.
“Objection!” the government said.
“Overruled,” the judge stated.
“No, I have never seen the movie,” Rich answered.
"You know those shoes that Carrie and Big get married in…” O'Brien started.
“Objection! Your honor he said he’s never seen it,” the prosecutor said.
After Rich's testimony, Special Agent Chad Speicher took the stand. Speicher had executed a search warrant on a safety deposit box at a TD Bank on Market St. Pictures of the contents showed a Louis Vuitton cloth bag full of cash, a gold Rolex, 15-25 boxes of jewelry, and a total of $58,700 in cash. Up next was FBI Special Agent David Carter who executed a search warrant on a different security deposit box at a TD Bank in Newtown.
The agent found $57,950 was in the box. Both boxes were both under Elizabeth Hibbs' name.
Marion Murphy was the last government witness to testify for the day. Murphy, a diner waitress, was charged with over a 100 counts in 1998 for defrauding her customers. She cried on the stand as she recalled her crimes.
“I stole a lot of hard working people’s money,” Murphy said, tearing up.
Murphy had been on probation in 2010 for shoplifting. She said she wanted to change her ways, so she started counseling and was “proud to say she’s not had an incident since.” Murphy agreed to work with the government in their efforts to infiltrate Dr. O'Brien's practice.
Her compensation: $5,600 in cash, although the government instructed her to pay taxes on that amount.
The FBI sent Murphy into Dr. O’Brien’s office to seek medication. Murphy told O’Brien that she was referred to him by a co-worker who was a “drug-addict,” according to Murphy.
Murphy appeared to be a sympathetic witness. A woman in her fifties, after expressing her distress about her former life, she spoke with ease about her mission on behalf of the FBI. Then, she lost it.
“If there’s a hundred people living on a street, there’s a heroin addict and that’s because of people like Dr. O’Brien,” Murphy said. O'Brien strenuously objected. So did his mother, with huffs and puffs from the spectator's seats.
Murphy testified that when she first walked into Dr. O’Brien’s office to get an appointment she was told that she may have to wait because there was pages of patients on the list to see Dr. O’Brien. But, Dr. O’Brien came out of his office, looked at her, and told the office employees he could take Murphy that day, Murphy told the jury. Contributing to earning a skip the line pass, Murphy paid the doctor her cash $200 co-pay.
Video and audio from a recording device placed in Murphy's handbag began to play for the jury.
O'Brien walked Murphy back to the room.
O'Brien: So what do you need, what do you want, what's going on...
Murphy: I have headaches...they're fierce when they come on....
O'Brien: Is it work related? Sinus? Stress..?
Murphy told O'Brien she'd been drinking a glass of wine with an over-the-counter medication for her headaches. The conversation then shifted to talk about buttery chardonnay and Kendall Jackson. Then, exes came into the discussion.
O'Brien said he was writing his ex-wife checks for $750,000 a month, but she reported his hyperbaric chamber to the feds.
O'Brien: She's out of her mind. O'Brien continued to go on a tangent about his exes. He told Murphy during the visit that he married his mistress, divorced her and now he's dating her.
Back to the headaches, O'Brien had a seemingly strict policy that he doesn't give out narcotics on a first visit. But Murphy left with a prescription for Percocet and Flexeril . . . and the doctor's orders to take them with wine. In the courtroom, some jurors watched the tape with disbelief. Meanwhile, O'Brien sat and bobbed his head back and forth to "I'll Be Around" by The Spinners, the song that was playing in his office on the undercover tape. Trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday.
By George Anastasia
She was an FBI informant who posed as a patient with chronic headaches.
He was a doctor who authorities say ran a "pill mill," prescribing oxycodone, Xanax and Percocet for whoever was willing to come up with a $200 "co-pay" for each five- to seven-minute session.
More than a year after their last office visit, Marian Murphy and Dr. William O'Brien 3d squared off in federal court this afternoon as O'Brien's conspiracy and drug dealing trial entered its second week.
It quickly got personal.
Murphy, a waitress with a lengthy criminal record that includes fraud, identity theft and driving under the influence, called O'Brien "the biggest drug dealer in South Philadelphia" and, her voice rising, her face turning red, asked "Do you know how many people are in rehab because of you?"
O'Brien, who is representing himself, shot right back at the witness, asking, "How is South Philly doing right now? Is it cleaned up?"
O'Brien has been held without bail since his arrest in January 2015, a point he has come back to several times during the trial while portraying himself as the victim of overzealous federal prosecutors and FBI agents.
His cross-examination of Murphy gave him the chance to hammer on that theme with questions that not only challenged her veracity and credibility but that also went to the heart of the government's case against him.
While O'Brien tried to paint himself as a victim, Murphy jumped at the chance to portray herself as a crusader. It was a war of words that took the trial in a decidedly different direction.
"My son became a heroin addict because of people like you," she said in an angry non-response to a question posed by O'Brien. She then went on to explain that her son got hooked on illegal prescription pills while in high school. One of his friends, she said, had gotten a script from a doctor and was selling the pills to classmates. That addiction eventually led her son to heroin, she added. With tears in her eyes, she admitted that she often gave him money so that he could buy heroin because it was her only way to keep him close.
Today, she said, her son is serving a "20 to 40 year" prison sentence for murder tied to his heroin habit. That, she implied, was the reason she worked for the FBI in the case against O'Brien who, she said, was no different that a corner drug dealer.
O'Brien, according to authorities, ran a pill mill in conjunction with members of the Pagans, an outlaw motorcycle club whose members and associates were also patients of the doctor. Authorities allege that O'Brien pocked nearly $1.8 million writing prescriptions for "patients" who later sold the pills on the streets.
They also have alleged that some members of the Pagans were making $10,000-a-week selling the drugs that O'Brien prescribed.
Murphy, who said she first heard about O'Brien while working as a waitress at the Broad Street Diner in South Philadelphia, has acknowledged that she was paid $5,600 by the FBI for her informant work, which included 14 (or perhaps 15, more on that later) visits to O'Brien's office in 2014. She also introduced an undercover FBI agent posing as her "niece" to the doctor. The agent became a patient and made five visits to O'Brien's office.
During one visit, authorities allege and O'Brien conceded in his opening remarks to the jury, the doctor offered to increase the dose of Xanax he was prescribing for the undercover agent in exchange for a blow job.
A tape of that visit is expected to be played when the agent, Heather Whelan, takes the stand perhaps later this week.
Every visit made by the agent or Murphy was picked up on audio and video tape, authorities say.
During Murphy's visits, the recording devices were hidden in a pocketbook she carried. She said the visits lasted between five and seven minutes and that O'Brien never checked her blood pressure, never examined her, never even wore a stethoscope.
The jury saw and heard the video and audio tapes while Murphy was being questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, one of the prosecutors in the case. They were also shown prescriptions in which large dosages of oxycodone and Xanax were prescribed by O'Brien.
The visits included brief conversations in which O'Brien asked her how she was feeling. She complained of headaches and of problems dealing with her elderly mother. The mother, like the headaches, was a fiction.
"You can't fix crazy," O'Brien said during one visit, commiserating with Murphy about the elderly mother. "You can drug it."
When Murphy asked O'Brien to up the dosage of her oxycodone from 20 milligrams to 30, he asked, "What's the problem?"
"I need them," she replied.
The doctor increased the dosage and over the course of 14 visits also increased the number of tablets from 60 to 90 and then to 120.
The last visit the jury saw was a tape from Dec. 15, 2014. That, Murphy said, was the last time she was in O'Brien's office. But the doctor showed her visit notes and a prescription written on Jan. 15, 2015, for 120 oxycodone pills.
Murphy, her face turning red, her voice rising, said "You know damn well I wasn't in your office on Jan. 15."
She said that each visit she made was recorded and that she would meet with the FBI immediately after the visit and turn the slips of paper on which the prescriptions were written over to the agents. She never filled any of the prescriptions, she said.
O'Brien asked if that last visit -- he was arrested on Jan. 29 -- was one that she did on her own, implying that she sold the drugs to make additional cash.
"Dr. O'Brien, you're lying," she said. 'I wasn't there."
O'Brien countered by asking. "Are you worrying this might jeopardize you job as an informant?"
Murphy shook her head in anger and then asked the judge for a brief recess. During the break, Troyer asked Judge Nitza Quinones to rein in the questioning, arguing that O'Brien "wasn't doing himself any favors" by bringing up the heroin problems of Murphy's son.
But before the judge could respond O'Brien said he was not concerned with how Murphy's comments about him might be perceived by the jury.
"Her credibility is at stake," O'Brien said. "And I think she's doing a great job blowing herself up."
Shortly before Murphy completed her testimony the jury heard another conversation recorded as she and the undercover FBI agent drove to O'Brien's Levittown office.
"He's a sick motherfucker and he's going to jail for a long time," Murphy said.
When O'Brien asked her about the tape -- implying that she would do anything to set him up --Murphy said, "That's where you belong."
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
By Ralph Cipriano
As the government's case against Chaka Fattah winds down, prosecutors were hot on the trail of the congressman's former live-in au pair.
The au pair is mentioned on page 39 of the government's 29-count, 85-page racketeering indictment under the heading of "Vederman's Payments and Things of Value to Fattah."
The indictment claims that in exchange for Congressman Fattah's support in trying to make co-defendant Herb Vederman a U.S. ambassador, Vederman bribed Fattah by giving him, among other goodies, a $3,000 check on March 11, 2010 to help pay for his au pair's college tuition.
"In or around August 2009, Vederman sponsored Fattah's live-in au pair," the indictment says, identifying the au pair only by her initials, S.M., a native of South Africa.
On the witness stand, Christine Parker, a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State, went through Muller's visa application and identified Herb Vederman as the guy who paid for the au pair's trip to the United States.
Christine Greb, Philadelphia University's dean of enrollment management, told the jury that Vederman further promised on visa applications to pay up to $22,500 a year for three years toward the costs of Muller's education at Philadelphia University.
But that was before Bonnie Bowser, Congressman Fattah's chief of staff, sought help from Philadelphia University officials on short notice about Muller's bid to transfer to the university from the community college.
By the end of the day, emails were flying around Philadelphia University under the heading of "urgent matter." The urgent matter involved doing a favor for the Fattahs, who lived within walking distance of the Philadelphia University campus.
According to John Pierantozzi, the university's retired vice president for development and alumni relations, after he met with Muller, he was so impressed he recommended her for a full scholarship.
"I don't meet with every student, but I did meet with Simone," he told the jury. "I thought that Simone was most deserving of a scholarship."
Pierantozzi testified that he counseled Muller to change her major, from psychology to fashion industry management, so that she would be eligible for more scholarships.
And that's just what happened. Pierantozzi told the jury how Muller won $111,894 in scholarships, and only wound up having to pay some $200 toward her education at P.U.
Vederman also got off cheap, according to the government's witnesses. Although Vederman had pledged to pay as much as $67,500 over three years toward the cost of Muller's education, he wound up having to only fork over $3,000.
Government prosecutors scoffed at that. In the last moments of court, before the judge sent everyone home for the day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray was openly questioning why Vederman wasn't asked to pony up more cash, while implying that the scholarship money could have been saved for more needy students.
The au pair story was the new scandal of the day as the Chaka trial began it's third week amidst a courtroom buzz that the government could wind up its case by Friday.
That prompted speculation about whether the congressman or any of his co-defendants will take the stand in their own defense.
Meanwhile, Fattah has been acting like he's still on the campaign trail, rather than somebody on trial in a racketeering case. At the defense table, the 11-term congressman has been relaxed and smiling, often making chit-chat with Vederman, the co-defendant who sits closest to him. During breaks, and outside the courthouse, Fattah has made more cheerful small talk with reporters and spectators.
But during the trial, two former confidantes of the congressman's, Thomas Lidnenfeld and Greg Naylor, have fingered Fattah as the mastermind behind the central act of fraud in the case, an alleged plot to launder a $1 million "loan" from the former CEO of Sallie Mae to pay for the expenses from Fattah's failed 2007 campaign to become mayor of Philadelphia.
Fattah, however, didn't appear visibly to break a sweat over the betrayals, or the charges that could send him to a federal prison. As the trial grinds on, the congressman seems to have adopted the "What, me worry?" approach originally made famous by Alfred E. Neuman.
By Ralph Cipriano
On Oct. 2, 2014, FBI Special Agent Heather Whelan was operating undercover inside a suspected "pill mill," trying to trick 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.
When the cross-examination began, O'Brien asked Whelan about her usual assignment, on the drug and gang squad.
"We go after anybody doing illegal drugs," she told the doctor.
O'Brien asked Whelan if they picked her for the undercover assignment targeting his office because she was attractive.
"I just looked young," she said.
You don't think you're good looking, the doctor asked.
"Average," she said. Whether somebody is attractive or not, the agent added, is a matter of opinion.
You don't think you're thin, the doctor asked.
"Athletic," she corrected him.
You don't think somebody who's young, thin and athletic is attractive, the doctor asked.
"That's your perception," the agent said.
The doctor asked Agent Whelan if her bosses had instructed her to act seductive on her undercover assignment.
Absolutely not, she said.
The doctor then asked the agent a series of improper questions, all of which were objected to by the prosecutor.
First, the doctor asked a boyfriend, and whether she was still seeing him. Then he asked if somebody else was the father of her love child.
From the stand, the agent with the athletic build looked as if she could be pregnant, an opinion shared by other women in the courtroom.
"That's outrageous," the FBI agent told the doctor.
O'Brien began quizzing Agent Whelan about her Army career. The agent testified she had been in the U.S. Army for 13 years, including a stint in Afghanistan, rising to the rank of major.
O'Brien asked if it was true that after he hit on her, that Agent Whelan came back on her next undercover assignment accompanied by a female friend, because she was afraid of the doctor.
You know how to handle yourself in a fight, don't you, O'Brien asked.
Not when you're outweighed by at least a 100 pounds, the agent said.
The doctor conceded he was much heavier. But still, he persisted, when you were in Afghanistan, you weren't afraid to get into a fight, were you?
"Hand to hand combat," the agent asked.
Yes, the doctor said.
Agent Whelan told the doctor that when she was in Afghanistan, working as an intelligence officer alongside special forces, she didn't receive any training on hand-to-hand combat.
"That's why they give you an M-4," she said.
But she added, while she was in the FBI, she did get training on hand-to-hand combat.
O'Brien asked the agent what was her objective when she went undercover in his office.
"To get a script," she said.
Why did you offer me $100 for blue Xanax, the doctor asked.
"That was just me trying to get more scripts," she said.
The doctor asked the agent if she knew that when he gave his opening statement to the jury, that he apologized for propositioning the agent, saying it was the wrong thing to do as a doctor, and the wrong thing to do as a man.
No, she said. She wasn't in the courtroom when that happened.
"I had no way" of knowing that he apologized, she said.
Next, the doctor reviewed his interaction with the agent while she was posing as a patient. The doctor got the agent to agree that he never touched her. Then he tried to get her to say that he treated her professionally.
For the FBI agent, this was too much.
"You gave me oxycotton for a headache," she said.
The doctor returned to the subject of why the FBI had picked an attractive young female agent to infiltrate his office.
"Were you told be seductive?" he asked.
"I wasn't told anything," she said. "Absolutely not."
Her bosses were only looking for a person who looked young, she said. They could have picked a guy.
As the half-hour cross-examination wore on, the doctor seemed to be rethinking his initial assessment of the agent's overall toughness.
"If you and I got in a fight, you think you'd kick my ass?" the doctor asked.
"Objection," yelled the prosecutor.
"Sustained," said the judge, who was still laughing.
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 nasty, bizarre, sarcastic and petty. At also, at times, effective.
Gill, a veteran investigator with a Clint Eastwood demeanor, will be back on the stand when the trial resumes on Friday. 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 exchange over O'Brien's admitted attempt to trade a higher dosage prescription of Xanax in exchange 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.
O'Brien, who has done fairly well as his own attorney, displayed a lack of legal acumen in the debate that followed. Arguing that a conspiracy required two participants, he asked if the undercover FBI agent was the second participant in the blow job conspiracy. The jury has already seen the videotape in which the agent turned down his offer.
Gill calmly explained that the conspiracy to illegally distribute prescription drugs was based on an investigation that focused on O'Brien and his office manager, Angela Rongione. She has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify for the government later in the trial. Once they agreed to the conspiracy, he said, acts by either of them could be used to support the charge.
The legal lesson was one of several delivered from the witness stand today by the federal agent who often spoke in a monotone and confined his responses to a single word or a short sentence.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Gill said in response to one rambling question.
"I don't understand what you're asking me," he said to another.
O'Brien, on the other hand, was emotional and, with a look to the jury, said he was literally "fighting for my life."
A good defense attorney knows that sometimes the questions are more important than the answers during cross-examination and O'Brien, to his credit, has quickly pick up on that technique.
A doctor of osteopathic medicine, the 53-year-old is charged with setting up a pill mill operation in conjunction with members of the Pagans outlaw motorcycle club. Authorities allege that O'Brien routinely wrote prescriptions for "patients" who were part of the scheme. They would then sell the pills on the street and kick up part of the income to members of the motorcycle gang. Some gang members and associates were also patients of the doctor.
Authorities contend that O'Brien, over a two-year period, pocketed $1.8 million by charging a "co-pay" of $200 for each visit. Some Pagans were generating $10,000-a-week selling the oxycodone, methadone, Percocet and Xanax prescribed by O'Brien, authorities say.
O'Brien's defense, built in large part around the questions he has asked, is that he was treating patients for pain management and that he routinely prescribed drugs to deal with that pain.
"If a doctor prescribes medication and a patient is selling it, is a doctor responsible?" O'Brien asked.
"How do you make sure a patient isn't selling medication?" he inquired.
"If they were selling half of it, how was I to know?" he asked.
"It depends," Gill said.
"Do you think doctors should be cops?" O'Brien countered. "Do you think cops should be doctors?"
That second question focused on another theme that O'Brien came back to again and again with Gill on the stand. He challenged the agent on medical issues and drug dosages, implying that he, as a doctor, was in a better position to determine a patient's needs.
"What gives you the chutzpah to go to a grand jury" and make medical assessments, O'Brien said in one of his many question/speeches while Gill was on the stand.
He also accused Gill of perjury, claiming the agent had failed to tell the grand jury that Rongione had been fired. When Gill identified her to the grand jury as O'Brien's office manager, O'Brien, his voice rising, claimed it was proof that Gill had lied.
In fact, the agent said, Rongione had been office manager for nearly two years, a period that covered the bulk of the time that made up the conspiracy. The fact that she was fired about two months before the investigation ended was immaterial. Still, O'Brien pressed on, coming back to the "lie" several times.
Gill showed little emotion, rolling with the verbal jabs and returning whenever possible to the prosecution's key point in the case -- O'Brien knew that prescriptions he wrote were going to be used by the Pagans and their associates to obtain pills that would be sold illegally, and for big profits, on the street.
The investigation, Gill said, showed that the Pagans were bringing patients to O'Brien and that those patients were selling their pills and kicking back to members of the motorcycle gang.
"You were aware of it," Gill said.
Rongione and several men identified as associates of the Pagan are expected to testify later in the trial along with at least three gentleman's club dancers who have told authorities that they exchanged sex for scripts in O'Brien's office. In all, 10 co-defendants have pleaded guilty.
"Do you really think it's legal to give a prescription for a blow job?" Gill asked at the end of today's session, adding "You have received blow jobs from other patients."
The agent and the doctor then got into a heated exchange with Gill telling O'Brien that while he might not like the answer Gill gave to a question, asking the same question in another way didn't change the facts or his response.
"I didn't offer a blow job for anything," Gill said.
"I wouldn't take a blow job from you," O'Brien replied.
With that bizarre exchange, Judge Nitza Quinones adjourned court for the day.
Gill and O'Brien will be back at it Friday morning.
Several co-defendants and the dancers who, prosecutors say, traded oral sex for scripts are expected to take the stand next week which may mean the jury has not heard the last of the blow job conspiracy portion of the case.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
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.
The duo continued to defraud investors, culminating in over $5 million dollars in funds.
They worked together to show investors forged documents which were supposed to reflect the issuance of warrants to entities Vaccaro controlled, as well as a transfer of those warrants. Those transfers, according to Vaccaro, had never been made.
|Carissa Lee Vadal|
|Thomas Kolman. Photo by The Daily Freeman|
|Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer|
The story focuses on L&I -- the Department of Licenses and Inspections -- that allows human tragedies like this to happen every few years as the "hidden cost" of doing business in this 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.
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.
Gill, an investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services, is part of a task force of federal agents who put together the case against O’Brien. Gill had a poker face when he returned on the stand Friday morning, for his second day of cross.
A theme of O’Brien’s defense against the 140 charges he faces for running a pill mill is to question the accuracy and the credibility of the task force. O’Brien has alluded to Gill being "lousy" at his job, and not verifying every fact before testifying.
Did you do your homework last night? O’Brien asked Gill.
No, but I helped my daughter with her homework, Gill responded coldly.
Every time Gill would deliver a jab-like answer, O'Brien's mother and sister, sitting in the courtroom, would gasp and exchange words between each other.
After a series of “I don’t knows” from Gill, O’Brien grabbed his marker and wrote “I don’t know” on his easel, for the jury to see.
Gill paused then at O’Brien’s question.
You can say ‘I don’t know,’ again, O’Brien said.
Objection, your honor. Please tell the defendant to stop badgering the witness, Prosecutor Beth Leahy interjected.
Since the trial began, O'Brien has started one question after another with, "Would it surprise you . . . " to use it as a way to talk about himself.
Would it surprise you to know that I played poker? O'Brien asked.
It wouldn't surprise or not surprise me, Gill said.
The back and forth badgering continued. It became a fight between Gill’s “I don’t knows” and O’Brien’s “Would it surprise you…”
I’m keeping track of the “I don’t knows,” O’Brien stated.
You should keep track of how many times you say would it surprise you, Gill countered.
|Friday had a handful of badgers.|
Did they pled guilty because they were scared? O'Brien asked.
No, they pled guilty because they were guilty, Gill said.
Have you ever heard that fear is the number one emotion that makes people do things, O’Brien asked, referencing the book Gotcha!
Dr. Brit Jennings, a fully licensed physician who worked alongside O’Brien, felt fear for another reason, according to Gill. Jennings, who is not charged, reduced many of the prescriptions that O’Brien was prescribing. Jennings is expected to testify later in the trial.
Why wasn’t Jennings arrested? O'Brien asked.
She didn’t do anything wrong . . . She lowered the prescriptions because she was scared . . . I don’t think it’s fair for you to compare you to her, Gill went on.
I don’t care whether you think it’s fair or not, O'Brien said, again failing to follow the question-answer format that goes with cross-examination.
The government introduced as exhibits for the jury photos of O’Brien in Aruba, at a poker tournament in Las Vegas, and in Florida. The trips were taken during O’Brien’s alleged bankruptcy. The indictment charges O’Brien with bankruptcy fraud, along with the other pill mill related charges.
Impressively, amateur lawyer O’Brien made the distinction that his company, W.J.O. Inc., had filed corporation bankruptcy under its new trustee, and that it wasn’t personal bankruptcy.
One photo introduced as evidence showed O’Brien holding a trophy he won in a poker tournament in Atlantic City.
I think you’re letting everyone know you’re a great poker player, Gill said.
And I’m letting you know you’re a lousy investigator, O'Brien shot back.
O'Brien brought up his lavish lifestyle and poker winnings both in question and in photos.
I'm impressed, Gill said. I think you're telling everyone what you had to impress people.
|Gill kept his Eastwood demeanor all day during |
The government introduced as an exhibit a photo of Patrick Treacy, a member of the Pagan motorcycle gang who was also one of O’Brien’s “patients.”
A bald-headed man with facial tattoos, Treacy was seeing O’Brien because he was in pain from an accident that left his leg, in O’Brien’s words, “mangled.”
He was able to walk around and sell prescriptions, Gill said about Treacy.
The first time Treacy came to O’Brien’s office was to treat this pain, O’Brien said.
“This is the [same] first time you discussed his menstrual cycle and period,” Gill said.
That remark left O’Brien speechless for an uncomfortable period of time.
O’Brien and Gill discussed D.L., a dancer who had visited O’Brien for prescriptions. Gill testified that D.L. was 24 weeks pregnant when O’Brien wrote her a prescription for a 240-pill count of Methadone.
Methadone is the "gold standard," of narcotics that a doctor could prescribe to pregnant women, O'Brien said.
During one of D.L.’s visit with O’Brien, he shut the door, took off his belt, and wanted oral sex in exchange for the prescriptions, Gill said.
D.L. didn’t initially tell Gill this, he said. She called back with a counselor because she wanted to bury the memory.
Another “patient” of O’Brien’s, D.P., had fallen off a pole and hurt her tailbone and was seeking a prescription. The x-ray done at Temple University Hospital on D.P.’s injuries was 100% false, testified Gill.
The date is June 27, 2014 . . . You weren’t at that Middle Street location, Gill said about O'Brien's address on the top of the document.
Really sharp of you for seeing that, O’Brien responded.
Did you call Temple and verify that the x-ray was done?
No, Gill said.
Anybody on your team going to call Temple this weekend?
Objection, Leahy said.
Is this still an ongoing investigation? O'Brien slyly asked.
Gill will return to the stand when court resumes Monday.
Shealyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
|Grandstanding Public Officials Cleared In Civil Case|
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.
|Mayor Nutter [right]|
"These guys have been through enormous battles, and they've prevailed," the lawyer said. He was referring to an odyssey that began with a RICO indictment, followed by a transfer to desk jobs, followed by getting fired. Then came the big racketeering trial where the narcs were completely exonerated, followed by an arbitration hearing, where they were reinstated with back pay.
"But on the other hand, an enormous stigma has still prevailed," Mannix said, referring to the allegations in the RICO indictment. Because instead of apologizing to the officers, the city officials named in the lawsuit have continued to trash the cops.
"So this battle is not over at all," Mannix said, referring to the battle to restore the officers' reputations. "The opinion has just been hand down and we are actively considering all options."
The original civil lawsuit against the D.A. the former mayor and former police commissioner was filed on behalf of Lt. Robert G. Otto, and six former narcotics officers that he supervised: Michael Spicer, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, John Speiser, Thomas Liciardello, and Linwood Norman.
On July 29, 2014, the six narcotics cops were indicted by the U.S. Attorney's office and charged in a RICO indictment with robbing and beating the drug dealers they arrested, as well as extortion, kidnapping, possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, and falsifying records.
But on May 14, 2015, in a humiliating defeat for the feds, the six former narcotics officers were found not guilty by a jury on all 47 counts in the RICO indictment.
The lawsuit was also prompted by a July 31, 2014 press conference, where Mayor Nutter called the indicted cops "sick scumbags." Not to be outdone, Commissioner Ramsey said the indictment was the worst case of police corruption he'd seen in his 40-year career, and then he promised to melt the officers' badges.
Following their acquittal on all charges, on July 10, 2015, the defendants were reinstated to their jobs with back pay. But in August 2015, Perry Betts, one of the reinstated cops, was fired again after he allegedly tested positive for marijuana.
In a 16-page memorandum that accompanied his decision, the judge wrote that the plaintiff's complaint "which reads more like a press release than a pleading" has "no basis in law."
|The Philly D.A.: Often Wrong But Never Accountable|
The judge noted that Commissioner Ramsey subsequently told the Philadelphia Daily News, "It's very, very unfortunate that the U.S. Attorney's Office did not win the case." Not to be outdone, D.A. Williams told the Daily News that the acquittal of the officers "would not alter [the D.A.'s office's] approach concerning these officers."
After the officers filed their civil complaint, the city moved to dismiss the charges.
"Faced with compelling dismissal motions," the judge wrote, the plaintiffs then decided to withdraw their complaints against D.A. Williams and withdraw their false light and defamation claims against the other defendants.
Lt. Otto also asked to withdraw from the civil case as a plaintiff, the judge wrote.
The problem the plaintiffs were up against was that Pennsylvania state law "absolutely immunizes" the district attorney, mayor and police commissioner, the judge wrote. The state has an unlimited doctrine of absolute privilege for high public officials that absolves them of damages in any civil suit, even in the case of false, defamatory statements made with malice, the judge wrote.
But the judge claimed that the plaintiffs' decisions to withdraw their complaints left him in a bind.
"Were I to accede to Plaintiffs requests, the only claim remaining would be" a "procedural due process claim against former Mayor Nutter, former Commissioner Ramsey, and the city, the judge wrote.
"Plaintiffs' decision to withdraw wholesale their most incendiary claims before any discovery has been taken is troubling, to say the least," the judge wrote, adding that "claims must be brought in good faith."
"This highly unusual action suggests that even though there is no reasonable basis to prosecute the claims, Plaintiffs nonetheless wish to retain the right to bring them again," the judge wrote.
The plaintiffs argued the false stigma of being corrupt officers remains, due to the continuing actions of city officials.
The judge, however, ruled that this claim of being stigmatized is not plausible because the plaintiffs "have failed to make out that their criminal trial and arbitration 'did not provide due process of law.'"
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.
It's the fourth week of the Fattah trial, and the defense is finally getting to put on its case.
So far, the Fattah trial has been about as exciting as watching a live forensic audit. The main storyline in the case is about an alleged plot to get around campaign finance laws by laundering a $1 million loan from a billionaire through several friends of the congressman to pay for the expenses of the failed Fattah for mayor campaign of 2007.
The first three weeks of the trial featured a lackluster cast of FBI agents, government bureaucrats and accountants describing financial maneuvers allegedly masterminded by the congressman to pay for his campaign bills, the college loans of his son, and a vacation home in the Poconos.
It's made for a pretty dull show.
So far, in their first full day of testimony, the defense wasn't doing much better by parading a bunch of character witnesses in front of the jury.
In Pennsylvania courts, character witnesses are limited to a really dull script. They can only say that they are familiar with a defendant's reputation in the community for say, honesty, generosity or being law-abiding. And then the character witness is limited to stating in court what that reputation is, usually in two or three words or less.
Asked about Vederman's reputation for generosity, Sister Mary replied, "Excellent," before expanding on that theme, much to the dismay of prosecutors.
It was Vederman's reputation for generosity that got him indicted in the racketeering case. The prosecution has claimed that Fattah used the wealthy Vederman as a "human ATM machine." In exchange, the prosecutors claim, Congressman Fatttah lobbied every VIP in Washington, including President Obama and Senator Bob Casey, in another failed political campaign to make Vederman an ambassador.
While the defense was parading its cast of character witnesses in front of the jury, one faithful spectator who usually brings his pool cues with him to court was observed napping with his eyes closed, head back and mouth wide open.
Jurors appeared listless; a court officer rubbed his eyes.
It was that boring.
As he came into court after a recess, Vederman told a TV reporter, "Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing here."
The TV reporter agreed.
Meanwhile, the congressman was being his usual upbeat self, walking around with a smile on his face and telling one supporter, "I'm doing well, how you doing?"
The big question is if any of the defendants will take the stand. So far, the lawyers are saying those decisions haven't been made yet.
When they weren't parading character witnesses, defenses lawyers in the case were introducing witnesses who would hopefully cast doubt on the credibility of the congressman's main accusers, two political consultants and former Fattah confidantes named Thomas Lindenfeld and Greg Naylor.
Lindenfeld and Naylor are the guys who, after they got caught lying to the FBI, are pointing the finger at Fattah, saying there's the guy who made me do it. But it's all word of mouth. The congressman's name isn't on any letters, documents or emails. All the jury has to go on is the word of the two informants, who are singing like canaries to get themselves out of their own pressing legal jams.
In court today, Barry Gross, a former prosecutor who represents Robert Brand, one of Fattah's co-defendants, called William P. Lightfoot to the stand.
Lightfoot, a lawyer and politician from Washington D.C., had his name and address listed on what the feds say was a phony application for a fraudulent nonprofit environmental group known as the "Blue Guardians."
The Blue Guardians were supposed to educate poor communities about environmental safety, but in reality, the feds said, the Blue Guardians never did anything. It was just a scam intended to steal tax dollars.
The only problem with listing Lightfoot's name and address on the application, Lightfoot said, was that he never gave Lindenfeld permission to use his name or address "on any document."
The implication was that Lindenfeld was a sleaze ball who could not be trusted
After he was contacted by the FBI, Lightfoot told the jury, he wrote Lindenfeld an email, requesting that his name be removed from the documents. Lindenfeld wrote back 44 days later, Gross noted, saying it was OK for Lightfoot to "resign" from the Blue Guardians because the group was defunct.
As they did throughout the day, government prosecutors objected strenuously to what Lightfoot had to say and there were frequent sidebars, where the judge advised the prosecutors to "calm down."
The trial resumes tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.
|The Philadelphia Inquirer/Ed Hille|
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.
At the Chaka Fattah racketeering trial today, Rendell spent nearly 90 minutes on the witness stand after he was called to testify on behalf of his old pal Vederman. The former governor wore a Navy blue suit, a striped tie and an American flag on his lapel.
"He became my friend," Rendell said in his raspy voice about Vederman. And Rendell would do anything to help a friend, he testified. So when Vederman wanted to become an ambassador, Randell went to bat for him.
"I thought Herb would be a good ambassador," Rendell told the jury. Even though Vederman was facing long odds.
"I didn't think he had a great chance," Rendell said. Why, asked Robert E. Welsh Jr., Vederman's lawyer.
Because there were plenty of other rich guys out there who wanted to be ambassadors, people who had raised lots of money for the Democratic party.
"He [Vederman] was competing against people who literally raised millions of dollars," Rendell said.
Why do politicians like to pick rich guys to serve as ambassadors?
There's a practical side to it, Rendell explained to the jury. When it comes to entertaining dignitaries, ambassadors don't have entertainment budgets and often ended up digging into their own pocket to pay the bill. That's why it's good to have men of means serving as ambassadors, Rendell testified.
At the Fattah trial, the feds claim that Vederman wanted to be an ambassador so bad that for years he was bribing Fattah by giving Fattah's son money to pay his college tuition, and giving Fattah's wife $18,000 for the phony purchase of a Porsche that never left the garage of former TV anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah.
On cross-examination, Rendell was happy to spar with Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson. The big, burly former governor was clearly perturbed about the government's decision to indict his little buddy Herb, a theme he would expand on afterwards when he talked with reporters.
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gibson asked Rendell how far he was willing to go to help a friend.
I'd do anything to help a friend, Rendell told the prosecutor, as long as it wasn't "illegal or immoral."
Gibson questioned Rendell about his relationship with Vederman, and whether it was similar to the relationship Vederman had with the congressman.
Vederman told you that he gave money to Fattah's son, didn't he, Gibson asked.
Yes, Rendell said.
Did he give your kids money too, Gibson asked.
Maybe for their birthdays, Rendell replied.
Doesn't doling out money to family members raise red flags, the prosecutor asked about Vederman.
Rendell didn't think so.
"Anything for a friend," Rendell said, before telling the prosecutor, "I hope you have friends like that."
"I appreciate your concern" for his welfare, the prosecutor replied sarcastically, adding, I didn't think you had any.
"Not much," Rendell admitted as the crowded courtroom broke into laughter.
Gibson asked Rendell about his attempts to lobby U.S. Senator Bob Casey to recommend Vederman for an ambassadorship. Rendell said that Casey had promised to recommend Vederman to the U.S. State Department.
Would you be surprised to know that when the senator came here to testify,he admitted he didn't do that, the prosecutor asked.
Rendell broke into a knowing smile.
"Not really," he said.
While they were on the subject of friends helping friends, the prosecutor asked Rendell if it was true that when Congressman Fattah was having financial troubles, if Rendell considered buying Fattah's house. So that instead of having to pay a mortgage to the bank, the congressman could have paid Rendell to keep his house.
Rendell said he did consider such a proposal, but he decided it "didn't make sense." Then he asked his wife about it.
"My wife would have none of it," Rendell said.
One of the alleged crimes Vederman is charged with is arranging the phony sale of a Porsche for $18,000 so that Congressman Fattah could use that money to purchase a vacation home in the Poconos. Meanwhile, the Porsche never changed hands, and stayed in Fattah's garage.
Do you know that it's a federal crime to lie on a mortgage application, the prosecutor asked Rendell.
"I think it's a federal crime to do almost anything," the former governor cracked while the courtroom again erupted in laughter.
Then, Rendell and Gibson duked it out over the alleged phony sale of the Porsche.
It wasn't a phony sale, Rendell told the jury. Herb owned the Porsche. If Herb's son, who liked Porsches, wanted that Porsche, Herb would have gotten it for him, Rendell said.
Didn't Vederman's son already own a Porsche, the prosecutor asked.
"People who like Porsches like a lot of Porsches," Rendell replied, to more laughter. "He [Vederman] didn't have a present need for it, he didn't have a place for it."
But, "It was his car," Rendell insisted. If the former governor had had a mid-life crisis back then, and he had asked Vederman for the Porsche, "I would have gotten it," Rendell told the jury.
When a lawyer for Congressman Fattah asked again about the Porsche, the 72-year-old Rendell insisted that if he had a "senior-citizen crisis" and "I wanted the Porsche, Herb would have gotten it to me."
When he left the witness stand, the hunched-over Rendell walked slowly down the hallway outside the courtroom, taking the time to chat with many well-wishers. Then he obliged reporters by doing an impromptu press conference on the sidewalk outside the courthouse.
When he talked to reporters, Rendell soke passionately about his concern for Vederman, whom he said, worked 60 hours a week year after year as his unpaid deputy mayor. He was never in it for the glory, Rendell said. So that's why Rendell showed up in court today to testify on Vederman's behalf. It was all about friendship.
"Herb can't help me, I can't help Herb," Rendell said. "I have no power any more."
But he could still work a crowd if reporters, as well as a jury.
"This is a real overreach by the government," Rendell declared about the indictment of Vederman.
"He's a fine human being," Rendell said about his friend. "They've ruined his life."
Rendell gave a sermon on prosecutors. As a former district attorney, he said, he was a cynical guy. Prosecutors are cynical, Rendell said. They always see the worst in people. They don't understand politics. They think the only reason people in politics do things is because they want something in return.
But some things "are done out of friendship," Rendell said. That's what Vederman was doing when he was helping out the congressman, Rendell said. Acting out of friendship. "Not to get an ambassadorship."
"We're not all bad," Rendell said about his fellow politicians. "We're not all evil."
We don't do everything for "an ulterior motive," he said.
But when a TV reporter asked Rendell about the indictment of the congressman, Rendell drew a line.
I came here to testify for Herb Vederman, Rendell said. The allegations against Congressman Fattah are "serious charges," Rendell said. And if they are proven, "He [Fattah] should be found guilty, he should go to jail."
But as far as the indictment of Vederman is concerned, it's "a horrible prosecutorial overreach," Rendell said.
He told reporters how the feds tried to get Vederman to testify against the congressman before the indictment came out.
"I'll tell you what I know," Rendell quoted Vederman as telling the feds, "I'll take a lie detector test."
But it wasn't enough.
Rendell reiterated that the feds had ruined Vederman's life. A guy who was always "happy and upbeat" now is always down in the dumps, Rendell lamented.
If Fattah gets convicted and Vederman gets acquitted, Rendell told reporters before he got into his car, they'll run the Fattah conviction on the front page.
And if Vederman gets acquitted, "They'll run it on page 47," Rendell said.
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.
"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.
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.
He has portrayed himself as a major cog in the pill mill scam, sending patients to O'Brien, paying for their visits and then in turning paying them for the prescriptions O'Brien wrote for oxycodone, methadone, Percocet and Xanax. The drugs were then sold on the streets.
Thompson is one of 10 defendants to plead guilty in the case. Only O'Brien has gone to trial. The government alleges the doctor pocketed $1.8 million knowingly writing prescriptions for drugs that would be sold on the street. Authorities allege that the Pagans and their associates, like Thompson, generated millions more from those street sales.
O'Brien and Thompson clashed repeatedly over how much the doctor knew. Throughout the now three-week old trial, O'Brien has argued that he had no way of knowing that prescriptions he was writing for pain management were not going to be taken by his patients.
Thompson has just rolled his eyes at that explanation.
"Ninety percent of the patients were fake," he said today. "You know it and I know it."
What wasn't fake was the amount of cash generated in the scheme. Thompson's take at one point was about $50,000-a-month, he said.
Asked what he had done with his money -- estimated to be about $500,000 in total -- Thompson said he spent it. His purchases, he said, included about 400 pairs of Michael Jordan designer sneakers. He also said he was regular at the roulette tables of local casinos.
"I was spending like a crazy person," he said.
Others, including Sam Nocille, a leader of the Pagans who has been identified as the individual who set the pill mill in operation, were making even more, he claimed. Nocille, who died in prison in 2014, was receiving kickbacks from most of the players in the scheme.
One of those players, Peter Marrandino, took the witness stand briefly at the end of today's court session and is expected back when the trial resumes tomorrow morning. Like Thompson, Marrandino has pleaded guilty and is cooperating.
And like Thompson, according to court records and testimony, Marrandino was once targeted by the Pagans. He fled to Florida after being threatened by Nocille who claimed Marrandino had stopped kicking up about $2,500-a-week from the illegal drug sales.
Marrandino will likely be on the stand for most of tomorrow's court session.
But today it was Thompson who sat center stage, offering the jury an inside look not only at the pill mill operation, but also the treachery, deceit and violence that are part of the biker underworld.
Problems developed, he said, because people got "greedy." In his interview with authorities, cited several times by O'Brien during his cross-examination, Thompson badmouthed several members of the biker gang and said, "I wouldn't be a Pagan if you paid me."
On the street, however, he was associating with Pagans regularly and coordinating the pill mill operation for Nocille who had been jailed in 2013.
After Nocille died, Thompson said, it was hard "to keep the peace" because of the greed and treachery of those involved. Thompson said he and the others made serious money, but that there was constant bickering over who was entitled to what.
Thompson testified that another defendant in the case, Pagans associate Joseph Mehl, was also part of the scam. He said Mehl brought strippers from the Oasis Gentleman's Club to O'Brien as "patients" and that O'Brien sometimes exchanged scripts for sex.
"The doctor liked strippers," he said.
Several dancers are expected to testify later in the trial.
The jury also heard a tape in which O'Brien threatened another "patient," Anthony Rongione, over an $11,000 debt. On the tape O'Brien tells Rongione if he doesn't come up with the money, "I'll hunt you down like a dog and hurt you."
Rongione, according to earlier testimony, was threatened by two Pagans allegedly sent by O'Brien. Rongione and another man were later found shot to death. No one has been charged in that case.
But O'Brien, through his cross-examination, was able to indicate that he was ready to settle the Rongione debt for just $2,000.
"No one's going to get killed over $2,000," a source close to the doctor said during a break in today's court session.
During his direct examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Beth Leahy, Thompson claimed that O'Brien once asked him if he could arrange to have O'Brien's first ex-wife "beaten or killed."
Thompson said he declined to get involved.
"I told him he was crazy," Thompson said.
He also said that O'Brien had sex in the bathroom of his office with strippers who were referred to him by the Pagans and that one of the dances would show up at the office apparently high on heroin.
She would sit in the office nodding "and drooling all over herself," Thompson said.
One of the stranger moments in today's -- or perhaps any -- court session came when O'Brien was questioning Thompson about his plea agreement with the government.
"Have you read it?" O'Brien asked.
When Thompson said he had, O'Brien introduced a copy of "The Cat in the Hat" as evidence and asked Thompson to read page 27. It was unclear what point O'Brien was trying to make. Some in the prosecution camp believe O'Brien mistakenly thought Thompson couldn't read and was trying to embarrass him.. But a member of the defense camp said there would be a clearer understanding of the passage later.
For what it's worth, Thompson, in his thick South Philadelphia accent, had no trouble with the Dr. Seuss narrative, reading for the jury:
"But I like to be here
Oh I like it a lot"
Said the Cat in the Hat
To the fish in the pot.
"I will NOT go away.
I do NOT wish to go!
And so," said the Cat in the Hat.
I will show you another good game that I know!"
Maybe the significance of that verse will become clearer at the trial goes on. For now, those close to O'Brien are calling it "The Cat in the Hat read by a Rat."
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@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.
Ortiz faces five charges of delivery or possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, corrupt organizations and possession of a controlled substance, and criminal conspiracy.
The other dealers include Holly Ann Eckhart, Robert David Rex, Susan Annette Rex, Connie Serfass, and Donna Marie Ziegenfuss. The four conspirators face charges delivery or possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, criminal use of a communication facility, criminal conspiracy, and more.
Dr. Paresh Patel, 55, of Franklin Township, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to violating the Anti-Kickback Statute, an anti-criminal statute that prohibits the exchange of anything of value for the referral of federal health care.
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."
During his closing argument to the jury today, Silver hammered away at the fact that the government investigation of Fattah had turned up nothing in black in white that implicated the congressman.
"No paper, no paper, no paper," Silver reminded the jury. The only thing the government has is a couple of felons who became cooperating witnesses, Silver said, He was referring to Thomas Lindenfeld and Greg Naylor, two political consultants who used to be Fattah confidantes.
"Send the prosecutors home empty-handed," Silver urged the jury. While Silver was ripping the government, Fattah was frequently seen smiling and smirking at the defense table.
The government has accused Fattah of accepting bribes such as $18,000 paid to him by co-defendant Herb Vederman for a 1989 Porsche that belonged to Renee Chenault-Fattah, the congressman's wife who used to be a local TV anchorwoman.
The congressman used the $18,000 to buy a vacation home in the Poconos. But the government claims that the sale of the Porsche was a fraud because the car never changed hands, and stayed in the Fattahs' garage.
Silver, however, claimed the sale was legitimate, and that "the Porsche means nothing." He also took a swipe at the courtroom demeanor of Lindenfeld, the government's star witness.
"Lindenfeld, he thought everything thing was a joke," Silver said. The defense lawyer reminded the jury that the 61-year-old Lindenfeld had already pleaded guilty to wire fraud and is facing a maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years in jail.
"That's motive," Silver said.
On the witness stand, Lindenfeld had accused the congressman of masterminding a scheme to launder a $1 million loan from a wealthy donor to pay for Fattah's campaign expenses in his failed 2007 run for mayor of Philadelphia. But aside from the accusations of Lindenfeld and Naylor, the money laundering scheme is "completely uncorroborated," Silver told the jury.
Earlier in the day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis spent two and a half hours detailing the "white collar crime spree" allegedly conducted by Fattah and his four co-defendants.
Kravis repeatedly referred to Vederman as the congressman's "human ATM machine." The government claims that Vederman was bribing Fattah with cash payments for three years so that the congressman would push Vederman for an ambassadorship.
Kravis warned the jury that all they were going to hear from defense lawyers were glowing tales about the friendship between Fattah and Vederman. But friends can agree to commit crimes together, Kravis warned the jury.
"A friend can bribe a friend," Kravis said.
The last lawyer to give a closing statement today was Catherine M. Recker, on behalf of Vederman.
The government had produced "no proof" of a conspiracy, Recker told the jury. "Herb Vederman had no criminal intent."
The government, she said, had just "cherry-picked" a bunch of facts to make a circumstantial case against Vederman and Fattah.
Vederman, she said, "was motivated by friendship and political support" when he wrote checks to benefit Fattah, his wife, and son. Vederman was also acting out of friendship when he wrote a $3,000 check to help pay for the college education of a young woman who served as the Fattah's au pair, Recker told the jury.
"Herb Vederman is a very generous man," Recker said. He retired from the clothing business early as a very wealthy man, and then, instead of resting on his laurels, he devoted the next 30 years of his life to public service, Recker said.
The prosecutors, she said, have taken a cynical view of that friendship between Vederman and Fattah. But the testimony in the case proved that friendship was real, she said. The two men often shared the drive from Philadelphia to Washington just so they could talk and hang out together, Recker said. Whenever Vederman saw Fattah, he greeted him "with a warm hug," Recker said.
Regarding the checks Vederman wrote out to benefit the Fattah family, Recker said, "These are the things that friends do for friends."
About that $18,000, "There's no robbery here," Recker said. The purchase of the Porsche was "a sale, not a bribe."
"This is another instance of a friend helping another friend."
Recker also pointed out that the Congressman's efforts to get Vederman appointed ambassador amounted to a just a couple of letters of recommendation.
"He did what little he could, and it wasn't much," Recker said about Fattah. And what the congressman did do amounted to "political acts," not "official acts," Recker said, because Congressman Fattah had no power to appoint an ambassador.
Recker also sought to distance Vederman from the racketeering indictment, saying that Vederman had no role in the alleged plot to launder a $1 million loan from a wealthy donor.
"Herb Vederman was not part of any enterprise, he does not belong here," she told the jury. The government had failed to prove that Vederman was part of any racketeering conspiracy.
When the case resumes tomorrow at 9:30, lawyers for three remaining co-defendants will make their closing statements, followed by a rebuttal from the prosecutors. The judge will then charge the jury.