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Giving readers an unvarnished, uncensored, insider's view of the biggest courtroom dramas.

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    By Logan Beck

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

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

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

    Varallo told the jury how on Labor Day weekend in 2014, the alleged conspirators in the Pill Mill ring met with their wives at Varallo’s Wildwood area restaurant, Io E Tu. At the meeting, Varallo said, he told Dr. O’Brien that Angela Rongione, his medical assistant and office manager, was causing “too many problems” for the group, and that he needed to fire her.

    Three months later, that's just what the doctor did.

    Like Dr. O'Brien, Varallo also filed for bankruptcy.

    During cross examination, O’Brien questioned Varallo’s bankruptcy claims, asking him to list his assets.

    According to Varallo, he owns 12 houses in Wildwood, two homes, one left to his mother, two garages, and a restaurant.

    “Are you still in debt?” O’Brien asked.

    Varallo told the jury that he used the money he made from the pill mill scheme to begin paying off his debts. 

    “We [Varallo and O’Brien] both did it because of greed,” Varallo said. “We both did it to get out of the hole.”

    Varallo claimed that O’Brien would write up to three prescriptions at a time, backdating the “scrip” if he had to. O’Brien, however, denied that accusation.

    “Now you’re just playing stupid,” Varallo said.

    “Who’s playing stupid?” O’Brien said.

    Judge Quiñones broke up the discussion by telling both the witness and the defendant to take a deep breath.

    The government's next witness was Angela Rongione, 31. 

    Rongione pleaded guilty to crimes associated with the pill scheme, and is awaiting sentencing. During her testimony, she described the relationship between O’Brien another alleged co-conspirator, Michael “Mikey” Thompson, as “buddy buddy.”

    Rongione admitted to selling Oxycodone for $16 a pill, and also selling prescriptions written out to her father. She also described some of the hijinks that the feds say routinely transpired at Dr. O'Brien's office.

    Rongione recalled an unidentified patient in O’Brien’s office who forgot to sign in one day. When Rongione went back to the examination room, she saw the patient sitting there in her bra and underwear.

    The patient immediately covered up when Rongione walked in.

    “There was no medical reason for her to be in a state of undress,” Rongione told the jury.

    The feds say that Dr. O’Brien was routinely exchanging narcotics prescriptions for sex.

    Rongione got fired on the grounds that she was a few minutes late to their Monday staff meetings.

    Rongione said she was presented with a severance package of $1,000, and a brief continuation of treatment for herself and her 8-year-old son.

    Rongione was also a patient at the Pill Mill.

    She alleged that O’Brien said that if she didn’t sign the package, she would be “fucked with unemployment and wouldn’t get a damn thing.”

    That upset Rongione.

    “At first, I told him to go fuck himself,” she said.

    Despite her distress, she agreed to the severance package. A short time later, she returned to the office for refills on her prescriptions, and the doctor tried to lowball her on her severance.

    O’Brien, she said, offered her $500, after she accused him of leaving her high and dry right without pills before the holiday season.

    Her response, she told the jury, was "Sure, why not.” 

    But then the doctor made her an offer that she refused.

    According to Rongione, the doctor asked her, “How about a blow job?”

    Her response, she told the jury, was, “You can keep your money.”

    During cross examination, O’Brien asked Rongione whether she was testifying under the influence of her medications.

    Rongione admitted to taking a percocet at 7 a.m., which she said had worn off.

    “Are you under the influence of percocet now?" the doctor asked. "Did you take a percocet during the break?”

     In addition to questioning her drug habits, O’Brien asked Rongione if she had sexual relations with other alleged conspirators such as Sam “Sammy” Nocille or Joey Mitchell. 

    She said no. 

    Then, Dr. O’Brien calculated how much money Rongione made a month with her paychecks and the money she made from selling the prescriptions.

    It came out to approximately $10,000 a month, the doctor said.

    He repeatedly asked her to multiply the figures, to which she responded, “You do the math, I’m not good with numbers.”

    In the end, Rongione said she pleaded guilty because she did what she had to do for her kids. She said she also wanted Dr. O’Brien to “quit dragging this on.”

    “Everybody and their mother knows you did wrong,” she told the doctor.

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    By George Anastasia

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

    She said she wanted methadone to help break her habit.

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

    She agreed.

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

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

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

    "He was standing with his back to the door," she said when asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Beth Leahy to explain to the jury what happened. "I was on my knees."

    She remembered that he wasn't wearing a belt, which she thought was odd. She said he wanted to ejaculate in her mouth. She refused. She said he wanted to have sexual intercourse with her. She said not without a condom. He didn't have one.

    She left with the script for 180 methadone tablets.

    Lane will be back on the stand when the trial resumes Monday after a two-day recess that began this morning. Now serving time in state prison for a retail theft conviction, she appeared in court dressed in a green prison jump suit. She had dark horn-rimmed glasses and short blonde hair. Soft spoken, she answered most of Leahy's questions with "yes ma'am" or "'no ma'am."

    She said she was a dancer at The Fox, a gentleman's club in Bath, PA, run by O'Brien's cousin. She was the second dancer from that club to testify in the now four-week old trial. Her story was similar to that of several other prosecution witnesses who claimed that O'Brien was a willing part of a conspiracy in which he wrote scripts for controlled substances that he knew would be sold on the street.

    Wednesday's court session ended with O'Brien, who is representing himself, cross-examining Lane. During the cross-examination, which is expected to resume Monday morning, Lane admitted that she appeared in a pornographic movie when she was 17; that she has two children, but that they are being raised by others; that she became pregnant for a second time while working as a dancer in Pompano Beach, and that she supported herself and her heroin habit (at one point 50 bags a day) by befriending men.

    As he has throughout the trial, O'Brien tried to deflect the government's case by challenging the character and credibility of the prosecution's witnesses.

    At least six of those witnesses are co-defendants in the pill mill case and have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the hope of reducing their prison sentences. Lane did not fit that category.

    She has not been charged in the current case and she said the government has made her no promises.

    "I wanted to do the right thing," she said. "I'm not receiving anything."

    She said she is no longer using heroin or prescription medications, but of her addiction, she said, "It's there and I battle it every day."

    Lane, whose arrest record includes convictions for retail theft, drunk driving, disorderly conduct and simple assault, said she first visited O'Brien in July 2013, one of several dancers or workers from The Fox who became "patients."

    She said she sold the pills to a club manager and, as another dancer testified, she said the oxycodone, Percocet and other medications O'Brien prescribed were sold by the pill at the club. Later, however, she said she sold her pills in order to buy heroin. And still later, she told the jury, she crushed the oxycodone tablets, diluted the powder in water and injected it directly into her veins.

    Lane said when she first visited O'Brien, she was dating the manager of The Fox and that he had paid $200 for each visit. He would then pay her for the medications after she had the prescriptions filled. But after she and the manager broke up, she said, O'Brien told her he could no longer see her.

    That was in October, 2013.

    The following summer, strung out on heroin and 25-weeks pregnant, she went back to O'Brien seeking methadone. And ultimately exchanged a blow job for the pills. This was the second time the jury has heard a sex for scripts tale. Earlier the panel saw a secretly recorded video in which an undercover female FBI agent posing as a patient was solicited by O'Brien.

    The agent declined his offer. Court documents and testimony have also indicated that several dancers from The Oasis, a Philadelphia strip club, exchanged sex for prescriptions. Whether they will appear as witnesses is unclear.

    Four weeks into the trial, O'Brien has tried to build a defense around attacking the prosecution - "Do you trust the government?" is a question he has asked almost every witness -- and challenging the character and credibility of co-defendants and other cooperators like Lane who have testified against him.

    But his cross-examinations are often unfocused and rambling. He has benefitted from a somewhat casual approach by Judge Nitza Quinones who has allowed him great leeway.

    "It's a difficult position for any judge to be in," said one courthouse source. "When a defendant goes pro se (represents himself) a judge has to give him some space," But more than one observer has suggested that a more seasoned jurist would not have allowed O'Brien to continually tread the same ground. Quinones was confirmed in June 2013 and has had limited experience presided over federal criminal trials.

    Still, several people with knowledge of criminal proceedings say the nature of the case and the fact that O'Brien is representing himself create difficult management issues regardless of a judge's experience.

    Then there is O'Brien's approach. Arrogant is one word that is often used to describe him.

    "It's tough when you always think you're the smartest person in the room," said one courtroom observer.

    Prior to Lane taking the stand Wednesday, O'Brien spent more than four hours cross-examining Angela Rongione, his former office manager. Rail thin, with dark hair, multiple tattoos and an attitude for match, Rongione never backed down in the verbal confrontation.

    A good defense attorney knows that sometimes less is more. Especially with a hostile witness, a good lawyer tries to quickly make the points he needs to make while getting the witness off the stand as soon as possible.

    O'Brien is a trained doctor, not a lawyer. And it is beginning to show.

    Rongione is one of 10 co-defendants who have pleaded guilty. She admitted  that she sold the drugs he prescribed to make money. She acknowledged that she knew and associated with members of the Pagans, the outlaw motorcycle gang that played a key role in the pill mill operation.

    But the lengthy and tedious cross-examination allowed her to state and restate the issue at the heart of the prosecution's case.

    "It was illegal," she said when she and O'Brien clashed over the prescriptions he was writing. "You know it was wrong. I know it was wrong."

    At another point, defending her credibility, she said, "I'm under oath. You been lying all day long."

    Or, in describing his practice: "It's all you did, narcotics, narcotics."

    Or, "I pled guilty, something you should have done a long time ago . . . You are guilty. You are a drug dealer . . . You know what you did. Put it in your brain. You did wrong."

    George Anastasia can be reached at

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  • 06/18/16--06:00: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab of what’s going on in the courts.

    By Logan Beck

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

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

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

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

    However, this is not Oberlander’s first offense.

    As a registered sex offender, Oberlander was also convicted of sexual abuse in the second degree back in 2002 after he sexually assaulted an 11-year-old girl.

    His crime carries a statutory maximum of two years in prison as well as a $250,000 fine.

    Since March 2014, 62 individuals have been charged with filing fraudulent applications for federal relief funds after Hurricane Sandy hit in October of 2012, resulting in unprecedented damage and loss.

    On Thursday, June 16, five individuals were charged for fraudulent behavior, according to Attorney General Robert Lougy. The defendants include Nikola Lulaj, 42, of Seaside Heights, N.J.; Rachel Bryant, 53, of Philadelphia, Pa.; Gordon Sinclair, 40, of Summit, N.J.; Pat G. Angelastro, 46, of Ortley Beach, N.J.; and Catherine Alvira-Przybylski, 45, of Keyport, N.J.

    The five defendants were charged, along with dozens of others found guilty of filing fraudulent applications.

    Following Superstorm Sandy, Lulaj filed applications for FEMA assistance, a low-interest SBA disaster-relief loan, state grants and more. As a result, he received $187,074 in funds. At the time of the storm, Lulaj was living in Dumont, N.J., but claimed that his rental/vacation home in Seaside Heights was his primary residence. He is charged with second-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.

    Bryant, a Philadelphia resident, used a similar tactic to obtain relief funds, claiming that a storm-damaged property she and her mother owned was her primary residence, when it was not. She was able to seize $23,918 from various programs, and now faces third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.

    Sinclair was able to obtain $12,270 in relief funds by filing false applications for FEMA rental assistance, along with a state grant under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (HRP). Sinclair also stated that the property damaged in Lavallette, N.J. was his primary home, while he was actually residing in an apartment in Hoboken. He faces third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.

    Angelastro claimed a home that belonged to his parents was his own, causing him to receive $10,000 in money that he was not qualified to receive. He faces third-degree theft by deception.

    Alvira-Przybylski took advantage of her circumstances after the storm by indicating expenses that she never actually incurred. While she did need some assistance after her home was damaged, she claimed that she was paying her own rent after she was forced to relocate, when in reality government relief efforts were providing her with the funds. She is charged with third-degree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.
    Photo Credit: 

    On Thursday, June 17, a disturbing discovery was made in a Bucks County Home.

    Twelve children, from age 6 months to 18, were found in the home, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Lower Southampton Police Department.

    Lee Kaplan, 51, allegedly fathered two of the children found in the home with the 18-year-old victim. He is currently being held in prison on $1 million bail and is being charged with sexual assault.

    As if the circumstances were not strange enough, the 18-year-old was allegedly “gifted” to Kaplan by her parents, both Lancaster County residents. The parents are also being held on $1 million bail, and are not being identified at this time.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Did you want to perform oral sex on the doctor, the prosecutor asked.

    "No," she said.

    Reeves testified that she was suffering from an unknown auto-immune disease that left her with chronic pain when a friend, Joseph Mehl, took her to see Dr. O'Brien at his office on South Broad Street.

    Reeves knew Mehl from The Oasis, a gentlemen's club in Northeast Philadelphia where she was a dancer.

    Mehl, identified by law enforcement authorities as an associate of the Pagans motorcycle gang, was indicted as a co-conspirator in the pill mill case, and has already pleaded guilty.

    The doctor would write Reeves prescriptions for up to 240 pills at a time of 30-milligram oxycodone,  and methadone, she testified. After she filled the prescription, Mehl would take half the pills and sell them. Reeves consumed the rest.

    So the doctor kept writing prescriptions for Reeves until the last time, in 2015, when the pharmacist told her, "We will not fill this prescription for you," Reeves told the jury, because "this doctor has been arrested."

    Without the drugs, Reeves wound up in a detox clinic for two weeks.

    "It was awful," she told the jury. Also, "extremely expensive," she said, and sad for her family.

    "My kids didn't know where I was going."

    At the height of her addiction, Reeves, who would be lucky to weigh 100 pounds, told the jury she was taking 60 milligrams of methadone and eight 30-milligram doses of Oxycodone a day.

    But her stay in detox was too short, and she wound up getting addicted to other drugs. It took another $20,000 stay in a rehab facility to break her addiction, she told the jury. At a clinic in Michigan, she underwent a "true medical detox" that involved removing all traces of the drugs from her body.

    Are you on any medication right now, the prosecutor asked.

    "Absolutely not," she said.

    Reeves is not charged in the case. The prosecutor asked if she had anything to gain by her testimony.

    No, she said. But she indicated that she had begun a new life. Since she left her drug addiction behind, she testified, she just recently graduated from college.

    On cross-examination, Dr. O'Brien, who is representing himself, repeatedly asked Reeves about her interaction with the FBI. But the dancer kept responding with what sounded like a scripted answer.

    "I don't remember specifically what we spoke about," she told the pill doctor.

    O'Brien asked about documents Reeves had signed as a patient about the risks associated with taking narcotics. Reeves replied that at the time she wasn't paying much attention.

    "I don't necessarily read everything that I sign," she said.

    O'Brien asked if Mehl had deliberately brought Reeves to his office so he could obtain prescriptions for narcotics. Reeves responded that the doctor was in on the conspiracy.

    "Joe Mehl," she said, told her "many times that you knew what was going on."

    O'Brien asked about any current medications that she was on.

    When her back hurts, she said, she takes Alleve.

    O'Brien reviewed medical records that claimed that three times, he gave Reeves acupuncture to relieve her pain.

    "It never happened," she insisted. "I hate needles. I would have never let you do that."

    Instead, she told the doctor that repeatedly writing down phony acupuncture treatments was part of the scam of running his pill mill.

    "I did not get that," she said about the acupuncture. "You did not do that to me."

    O'Brien asked Reeves if she ever sent him nude pictures of herself.

    "That's not something that I would do," she said.

    O'Brien asked if Reeves would be surprised to hear that his former office manager had seen such pictures.

    "Objection," said the prosecutor.

    "Sustained," said the judge.

    Reeves was the second former strip club dancer to testify in two days about providing oral sex to the pill doctor in exchange for written prescriptions.

    Earlier, Deanna Lane, 28, told the jury how she was a pregnant heroin addict with tracts on both of her arms when she accepted the doctor's offer to provide oral sex in exchange for drugs.

    When court began today, Lane was still on the stand, being cross-examined by O'Brien.

    O'Brien asked Lane if some of the men she was having sex with gave her money.

    Yes, she said.

    O'Brien asked if she was a prostitute.

    "I wouldn't call myself a prostitute," she said.

    Well, O'Brien said, what would you call somebody who has sex for money?

    Objection, said the prosecutor.

    Sustained, said the judge.

    Undaunted, O'Brien strolled over to a giant easel and wrote "Prostitute" in giant letters and then he underlined it for the jury's benefit.

    O'Brien questioned Lane about the mundane details of their trysts. She had claimed he was wearing khaki pants; he said he doesn't own any khaki pants.

    She had claimed he wasn't wearing a belt, which struck her as odd; he claimed he owned several belts.

    When the exchange got testy, Lane cut to the bottom line.

    "I can give you specific details about your private parts, Mr. O'Brien," she warned.

    O'Brien the amateur lawyer wisely moved on.

    The next witness was Mary Ann Ennis, a mother of eight children. She told the jury how her son Joseph, the third in her brood, was taking too many drugs under Dr. O'Brien's care, and got into a couple of accidents.

    Joseph Ennis of Levittown, who originally went to see Dr. O'Brien after he hurt his back, was found dead in December 2013. Days earlier, according to the federal indictment, O'Brien had written Ennis prescriptions for oxycodone, methadone and cyclobenzaprine "for no legitimate medical purpose."

    Ennis's mother is suing the doctor for malpractice.

    Next to testify was Matthew Shaw, Ennis's brother-in-law, who broke into Ennis's house and found him dead. Shaw told the jury how he found Ennis "face-down" in his bedroom.

    "He was cold," Shaw said. He called 911, but it was already too late.

    On cross, O'Brien asked Shaw if he ever drank beer with Ennis.

    Yes, he said.

    Did you know that Ennis also smoked marijuana, the doctor asked.

    Yes, Shaw said.

    I'm done with my cross-examination, the doctor told the judge.

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    By George Anastasia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    O'Brien, who is representing himself, is charged with conspiracy, drug dealing, contributing to the death of a patient, money-laundering and bankruptcy fraud. The prosecution alleges that he pocketed $1.8 million over a three-year period by writing prescriptions for fake patients who were part of a pill mill operation set up by members of the Pagans outlaw motorcycle club.

    The government contends that some members of the Pagans were making $10,000-a-week in the scam, selling drugs like oxycodone, methadone, Xanax and Percocet that O'Brien prescribed for clients who were working with the bikers. The government alleges O'Brien was paid $200 per visit to do little more than write a prescription. The fake patients were then paid about $500 after having their prescriptions filled and turning the drugs over to the Pagans or Pagan associates.

    Today's testimony focused for the first time on the medical side of the investigation. The jury has already heard from several co-defendants who have pleaded guilty and who have said that O'Brien was a willing part of the pill mill scheme. The witnesses have also included two strippers who said they exchange sex for drugs after O'Brien said he would waive the $200 visit fee if they would give him a blow job.

    The dancers said they complied.

    Today's testimony was more philosophical than sexual and included a clash of egos.

    Thomas, a doctor with 30 years experience in pain management (O'Brien has 20 years), seldom looked at O'Brien as he was being cross-examined. Instead, he looked at the jury and in soft spoken but firm language detailed his findings and opinions.

    To date, Thomas said he has been paid $30,000 by the government for his work.

    Asked if he was paid in cash, Thomas appeared perplexed.

    "Did you know informants are paid in cash?" O'Brien asked. The prosecution objected to the question, but Thomas, shaking his head and smiling, said he was paid by check.

    O'Brien, who has argued continually that he was wrongly targeted by federal authorities who did not understand medicine or pain management, took the cross-examination in several different directions and, as has been the case often during the five-week trial, it was not always clear what point he was trying to make.

    He and Thomas disagreed on most medical questions and got into a discussion about whether the practice of medicine was an art or a science.

    Thomas waxed philosophically in response, telling the jury, "to practice medicine without books is to sail an uncharted sea. But to practice only through books is to never go to sea at all."

    When O'Brien referred to an 1896 study involving cocaine and other narcotics, Thomas replied that he preferred to base his practice and opinions on studies done in the current century. The jury also heard O'Brien and Thomas discuss whether George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were drug dealers since both raised hemp on their farms - hemp is a form of cannabis.

    And so the cross-examination rambled on.

    When Thomas offered another lengthy response to a question, O'Brien asked, "Do you like to hear yourself talk?" A prosecution objection was sustained by Judge Nitza Quinones.

    But the question, after nearly five weeks of often disjointed cross-examination, could also be asked of O'Brien.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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  • 06/21/16--16:52: The Verdict On Chaka
  • By Ralph Cipriano

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By the time the jury foreman was through reading the verdict on all 29 counts, Fattah and four co-defendants were found guilty on 57 of 74 total charges.

    Fattah was found guilty on all 22 counts and all 28 charges against him.

    Besides being convicted of conspiracy to commit racketeering, co-defendant Herb Vederman was convicted on seven additional counts, including bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, bank fraud, making false statements to a credit union, falsification of records, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering,

    Vederman was a pal of the congressman and an unpaid former Philadelphia deputy mayor under Ed Rendell.

    Brand was another Fattah pal who founded a consulting firm that the feds said was used to launder money from a wealthy donor as part of a scheme to illegally pay off Fattah's campaign expenses. Besides being convicted of conspiracy to commit racketeering, Brand was found guilty on conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

    Karen Nicholas, another co-defendant, was convicted on four counts, including conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and two counts of wire fraud. She was a former Fattah congressional aide who was the CEO of a Fattah nonprofit that the feds said had fraudulently obtained a $50,000 federal loan. The jury also found find Nicholas not guilty on one count of wire fraud.

    Bonnie Bowser, Fattah's former chief of staff, was the most successful defendant, after her lawyer argued that she was merely following the congressman's orders.The jury found Bowser not guilty on 16 counts, including racketeering, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, multiple counts of mail fraud, and multiple counts of falsification of records. But the jury found Bowser guilty on five counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, bank fraud, making false statements to a credit union, falsification of records, and money laundering.

    The judge polled the jury of nine men and three women -- including three African-American women -- to see if the verdict was unanimous. It was.

    The judge allowed all five defendants to remain free on bail pending sentencing on Oct. 4th and 5th.

    The judge allowed Juror No. 8 to leave early because his wife was pregnant and about to give birth.

    It had taken only 13 minutes to deliver the verdict. A minute later, at 12:34 p.m., the judge dismissed the rest of the jurors.

    They left via separate exits on either side of the courthouse. The jurors were stone-faced and many had their heads down as they rushed passed reporters.

     Only one juror had anything to say.

    "We're exhausted," she told a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Unlike the jurors that convicted him, Fattah had no choice but to face the music.

    "It was a tough day," Fattah said as he engulfed by a media swarm outside the courthouse. "I want to thank the jury for their service," he added, as some kind of bizarre public service announcement. The congressman told reporters he had to talk to his lawyers before he figured out what to do next.

    The main racketeering scheme that the congressman got nailed for involved a $1 million donation from Albert Lord, the former CEO of Fannie Mae. Lord had paid the money as a "loan" to Thomas Lindenfeld, a political consultant who was a longtime confidante of Fattah's.

    But, the feds said, the money was laundered through a scheme masterminded by Fattah to pay off the expenses from his failed 2007 campaign for mayor of Philadelphia.

    Vederman was the most prominent co-defendant on the undercard. The government, in the biggest stretch of the case, had contended that in exchange for Fattah's letters of recommendation to be appointed U.S. Ambassador -- recommendations that turned out to be worthless -- Vederman had bribed Fattah for three years.

    Those bribes included a $3,000 check Vederman paid to Philadelphia University, to cover some of the educational expenses of Fattah's au pair. And $18,000 that Vederman paid to Fattah and his wife in exchange for a used Porsche that never left the congressman's garage.

    The $18,000, the feds said, was used by Fattah to buy a vacation home in the Poconos.

    "I'm shocked," Vederman told an Inquirer reporter as he left the courthouse.

    Defense lawyers around town were similarly stunned by the conviction.

    "I can't believe it," said Dennis Cogan, when he heard the news. Cogan, a former assistant Philadelphia district attorney, described the bribery charges against Vederman as a "bogus RICO case."

    If Vederman was guilty of bribery for the relatively petty donations he made, Cogan said, "Nobody is safe."

    None of the other defendants or their lawyers had anything else to say as they left the courthouse. Neither did the prosecutors, except to announce a 3 p.m. press conference.

    At the appointed hour, a phalanx of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, FBI and IRS agents, all of whom had apparently taken a vow of silence, stood behind U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.

    Memeger, who has all the charisma of a wooden Indian, then read a prepared statement that sounded like, as one TV reporter cracked, "the Boy Scouts' pledge of allegiance."

    "Chaka Fattah Sr. and his co-defendants betrayed the public trust and undermined our faith in government," Memeger read from his prepared statement. "Today's verdict makes clear that the citizens of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania expect their public officials to act with honesty and integrity, and to not sell their office for personal gain."

    At the podium outside the courthouse, Memeger gave the government's two star cooperating witnesses, Lindenfeld and fellow political consultant Greg Naylor, credit for making the government's case against Fattah.

    "They were able to give the inside view" of the crimes, the U.S. Attorney told reporters. "And the jury believed that view."

    One reporter asked Memeger why Lord, the guy who made the phony $1 million loan to the Fattah campaign, did not have to stand trial with the rest of the defendants.

    "No comment," the U.S. Attorney said.

    Jeff Cole, an investigative reporter for Fox 29, then asked another tough question. Shouting above the rest of the jackals, Cole asked Memeger to respond to some pointed criticism of the prosecutors that had come from former Gov. Ed Rendell.

    During the trial, Rendell, a former Philadelphia district attorney, had appeared as a witness on behalf of Vederman. On the witness stand, Rendell said that federal prosecutors had taken the most cynical view of the longtime friendship that existed between Vederman and Fattah.

    The prosecutors, Rendell said, believe that the only reason politicians do favors for each other is to get something in return. Prosecutors see every transaction between politicians as a quid pro quo. But sometimes, Rendell said, politicians actually do things just out of friendship.

    "Anything for a friend," Rendell told the jury. After he testified, Rendell told reporters that the indictment of Vederman was "a horrible prosecutorial overreach."

    Asked to respond to those criticisms, Memeger pointed to the scoreboard.

     "We did our job, we did it well," Memeger said, "and the jury agreed with us."

    The thin-skinned U.S. Attorney then announced that the next question from the media would be the last.

    The press conference that began at 3 p.m. was over in 12 minutes.

    One minute longer than it took to read the verdict.

    Justice in Philadelphia -- swift and brutal.

    There's no time for tears.

    And if you're the U.S. Attorney, you get to decide when you don't want to answer any more questions.

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    By George Anastasia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Kane, who worked with the federal investigative team that built the case against O'Brien, said he was assigned to develop evidence to support the money laundering charge and a charge that O'Brien had given false statements in the bankruptcy proceeding in 2014. Those were part of a sweeping indictment that also charged O'Brien with conspiracy and drug dealing.

    The veteran investigator is expected back on the witness stand when the trial before U.S. District Court Judge Nitza Quinones resumes on Monday. The trial will be in recess Friday.

    Kane spent nearly five hours testifying today, first under direct examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Beth Leahy then on cross by O'Brien. The former agent detailed his findings, telling the federal court jury that will decided O'Brien's fate that O'Brien and his former wife, Ellizabeth Hibbs, routinely funneled money out of the medical practice while it was in bankruptcy, in effect hiding assets from the bankruptcy court.

    He also cited a sworn statement O'Brien made in bankruptcy court in October 2014 in which the doctor said he was living in his office in Levittown and depending on friends and family members for food while driving a Kia Sedona and generating virtually no income.

    In fact, Kane said, O'Brien and Hibbs, who divorced in 2012 but according to authorities continued to live together, had just weeks earlier signed a lease for a $2,100-a-month condo at The Phoenix, a high rise at 16th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia.

    He said money and other assets seized during the investigation included $10,000 in cash found in a drawer at the condo. And more than $300,000 in bank accounts and safety deposit boxes controlled by Hibbs.

    Hibbs is one of 10 co-defendants to plead guilty in the case. While she is not expected to testify, Kane said she has told authorities that the money came from O'Brien's drug dealing.

    O'Brien, 53, is charged with conspiring with members of the Pagans outlaw motorcycle gang to set up a pill mill operation that generated millions in cash and that poured thousands of doses of oxycodone, methadone, Xanax and Percocet on the streets.

    Authorities allege O'Brien pocked $1.8 million during a three-year period when the scheme was operational. They also contend that members of the Pagans were generating $10,00-a-week from the illegal street sale of the drugs obtained through prescriptions O'Brien wrote for dozens of "patients" sent to him by the bikers or their associates.

    O'Brien charged $200 cash per visit, investigators contend.

    Throughout the now five-week old trial O'Brien has argued that he was unaware his patients were selling the pills that he prescribed. Today's testimony shifted from the scheme to O'Brien's lavish lifestyle.

    At one point, Kane said, O'Brien and Hibbs lived in a $1.9 million penthouse on Rittenhouse Square. There was also a home at the Jersey shore and lavish expenditures, documented in part through Hibbs' AmEx credit card which showed purchases of $215,461 during a 30-month period.

    These included season tickets to the Flyers and Eagles, over $100,000 in travel expenses, $38,000 for food and beverages and another $49,000 on entertainment.

    O'Brien, as he has throughout the trial, claimed that he was wrongly targeted by federal investigators who misinterpreted facts and mishandled the investigation.

    When O'Brien challenged Kane's approach, asking if he and others had developed financial profiles of some of the co-defendants including those who worked with or for the Pagans, Kane said, "You were the main target of the investigation as a drug dealer."

    In response to another question, Kane said, "My job was to develop evidence of bankruptcy fraud and money laundering, which I did."

    He said the $300,000 found in accounts controlled by Hibbs after O'Brien was arrested in January 2015 was part of their drug earnings. O'Brien has argued that the money was Hibbs' and that she had earned it legitimately.

    But Kane said after Hibbs agreed to plead guilty, "She admitted that that was money that you gave her that came from drug dealing.". 

    O'Brien and the investigator then got into a heated discussion about the allegation that he had earned $1.8 million in cash from the drug scheme. If $300,000 had been seized, O'Brien asked, where is the rest of the cash?

    "You didn't seize the other $1.5 million?" O'Brien asked.

    "We did not," Kane replied.

    "Where is it?" the doctor asked.

    "You tell me," said the investigator.

    George Anastasia can be contacted at

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  • 06/25/16--06:00: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab of what’s going 
    on in the courts.

    By Logan Beck

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

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

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

    The son of King’s client was in CP&P custody, and had been placed in a foster home, prompting the young mother to try and regain custody. King’s role was to not only transport the mother to and from the visits at the state office, but to also write reports about the interactions that would be considered by a judge to determine if and when custody would be granted.

    The client was well aware of King’s power, and was told that if she trusted him, he would ensure that the visits went well. During one of the visits, he made sexually explicit comments to the client. After the child returned to the foster home, King allegedly drove his client to a wooded area, and groped and kissed and grabbed her.

    Out of fear of losing custody of her son, the client did not resist King’s advances.

    After the next visit, King drove the client to a motel in Pennsylvania, and proceeded to have sex with her. Again, the client did not resist. Instead, she reported the incident to her case worker in early May.

    As a result of developing an improper relationship with his client, King faces a potential sentence of five to 10 years in prison, five years of parole ineligibility, and a maximum fine of $150,000.

    The expression “robbing them blind” takes on a new meaning with one New Jersey man who managed to successfully rob a bank not once, or twice...but 8 times.

    Steven Wisnowski, 32, admitted to robbing 8 banks in New Jersey and New York between Oct. 30 2013 and Jan. 7 2014, according to the Department of Justice, using the same strategy each time. He robbed two PNC Banks, two TD Banks, Santander Bank, Ridgewood Savings Bank, Columbia Bank, and Fulton Bank.

    Wisnowski entered each bank wearing a hat, a hoodie, and various wigs to disguise himself, often convincing the bank tellers that he was armed after demanding money.

    During the robberies, Wisnowski often asked for large bills, prompting the tellers to place the money in an envelope before Wisnowski ran out.

    Wisnowski’s luck ran out during the robbery in Fulton Bank in New Jersey after officials tracked his vehicle to the scene.

    He will be sentenced on Oct. 11, and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

    The Internet can be a dangerous place.

    A minor traffic violation led to a disturbing discovery after the Pennsylvania State Police pulled over a Lehigh County man on June 9, 2012.

    A 13-year-old boy was found in the passenger seat of George William Schantz’s vehicle.

    After further investigation, it was discovered that Schantz met the boy online, arranging a time and place to meet up in order to engage in sexual activities. According to the Attorney General, the traffic stop prevented the sexaul acts from occurring.

    As a result, Schantz is being charged with one count of kidnapping a minor, statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, luring a child into a motor vehicle, as well as the corruption of minors.

    Schantz will have his preliminary hearing on July 6.

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    By Ralph Cipriano

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

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

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

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

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

    The bizarre climax to the trial threatened to overshadow the fate of Dr. O'Brien. A jury of six men and six women, deliberating for just a day, found the doctor guilty on 123 out of 127 counts.

    The jury found Dr. O'Brien guilty on two counts of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, 117 counts of distribution of controlled substances, as well as guilty on one count of money laundering, guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud, and guilty on one count of making a false oath during bankruptcy proceedings.

    But the most serious charge the jury found the doctor guilty of was Count 124, distribution of a controlled substance resulting in the death of a patient.

    Joseph Ennis of Levittown, who originally went to see Dr. O'Brien after he hurt his back, was found dead in his bedroom on December 2013, by a relative. Days earlier, according to the federal indictment, Dr. O'Brien had written Ennis prescriptions for oxycodone, methadone and cyclobenzaprine "for no legitimate medical purpose."

    The charge of distributing a controlled substance resulting in the death of a patient carries a mandatory sentence of 20 years, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Beth Leahy.

    "Oh God, that's horrible," O'Brien's mother said in the courtroom when the jury foreman read the verdict on Count 124.

    O'Brien stayed calm during the reading of the verdict. At times, he cradled his face in one hand. At another time, he put his head down on the defense table. Sometimes he talked to the lawyer appointed by the court to assist in his defense. Then he turned around and stared at his mother, to see if she was all right.

    The judge sent sentencing for Oct. 5th.

    "Dr. O'Brien, we will see you in the near future," the judge told the defendant.

    "Thank you, Your Honor," replied the defendant, as he was led in handcuffs back to jail, where he has been held for the past eighteen months and has lost a hundred pounds.

    "Have a good night," the doctor told the judge.

    The prosecutor told reporters she was happy with the verdict.

    "The evidence was overwhelming in this case," she said. "At the end of the day, justice prevailed."

    Asked if she had ever seen a court clerk read every word of every charge before, she replied, "I really can't even say."

    Asked if she had ever seen a court clerk read the names of jurors in court, the prosecutor replied, "I've never seen that before."

    Adding to the mayhem, the prosecutor in court accused a companion of O'Brien's mother of writing down the names of jurors, as they were recited by the clerk, for possibly nefarious purposes. The judge responded by having the clerk confiscate the list of jurors.

    Dr. O'Brien's mother was subdued as she left the courtroom. "I really have nothing to say," she said. "I don't believe my son is guilty."

    During a five-week trial, the prosecution had alleged that Dr. O'Brien had pocketed $1.8 million over three years by writing prescriptions for fake patients who were part of a pill mill operation set up by members of the Pagans outlaw motorcycle gang.

    The government contended that some Pagans were making $10,000-a-week selling drugs like oxycodone, methadone, Xanax and Percocet that O'Brien had prescribed for clients recruited by the Pagans. The government alleged that Dr. O'Brien was paid $200 per visit to do little more than write a prescription. The fake patients made about $500 each after having their prescriptions filled and turning the drugs over to the Pagans and their associates, guys with nicknames such as "Redneck" and "Tomato Pie."

    Throughout the trial, the judge, who seemed like an incredibly kind person, gave the defendant plenty of leeway to play defense lawyer. That leeway resulted in many bizarre exchanges between the doctor and the government's witnesses, as well as some incredibly long cross-examinations conducted by the doctor. But thanks to the freedom the judge gave the defendant, which many courtroom observers thought was excessive, it may be hard for any subsequent defense lawyer to find any appealable issues.

    Today's court session began shortly before 10 a.m., when the judge locked the doors of the courtroom while she charged the jury for 90 minutes.

    The jury got the case and began to deliberate shortly before 11:30. After lunch, the jury foreman sent four different questions to the judge. The questions were all about whether the judge could spell out persons named in the indictment who were involved in alleged criminal activities, but identified only by numbers.

    In some cases when those persons were previously identified in court, the judge was happy to disclose their identities to the jury. Jurors also asked to see prescriptions for specific patients under the doctor's care.

    The mood in the courtroom was light-hearted before the verdict came in.

    "I was deathly sick this weekend," the defendant told the judge, after she complained about having a cold.

    The doctor advised the judge to take three Advil every six hours.

    "Still prescribing, huh?" the judge told the doctor.

    "I am what I am, Your Honor," the doctor replied. He added that in jail, they wouldn't let him have any medication for his cold.

    By 5:44 p.m., the clerk announced the jury had reached a verdict.

    Dr. O'Brien seemed outwardly confident. He told the marshals that his mother would make chicken cutlets and spinach ravioli for them, presumably when he was released after being found not guilty on all the charges.

    The jurors filed into the courtroom at 5:53 p.m. for the reading of the verdict, By the time the jury foreman was done, it was 8 p.m.

    In contrast, it took only 13 minutes on June 21st for the jury in the Chaka Fattah case to find the congressman and four co-defendants guilty on 57 of 74 total charges in a 29-count indictment.

    At the 2009 federal corruption trial of former state Senator Vincent J. Fumo, it took the jury foreman only 11 minutes to pronounce Fumo guilty on 137 counts.

    The jurors in the pill doctor case may deserve medals for making it through this trial. Especially the jury foreman who was on her feet for two hours while the court clerk conducted her filibuster.

    But if that two-hour verdict is upheld on appeal, the U.S. Attorney's Office won't have anything to complain about.

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    No more blackjack for Joey.

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  • 07/02/16--16:12: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab of what’s going on in the courts.

    By Logan Beck

    U.S. For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:

    In November of 2014, just before 10 p.m., a 22-year-old woman was violently grabbed off a Philadelphia street and forced into a car. She was then struck by her attacker with a hammer, and was told that if she continued to resist, he would kill her.

    The victim was transported to Maryland in the trunk of the attacker’s car, her wrists bound together. Three days later, she was rescued by police. 

    A surveillance video captured the attack as it happened, showing Barnes seize the woman shortly after she stepped off a bus.

    On June 30, Delvin Barnes, 38, of Virginia was sentenced to 35 years in prison for kidnapping, and will also face an additional $100 special assessment as ordered by U.S. District Court Judge J. Curtis Joyner.

    Barnes attack allegedly began as an attempt at robbery, as he supposedly needed money to visit his daughter in Virginia. He pleaded guilty in September 2015.

    The innappropriate online behavior and subsequent arrest of one man quite literally led to another.

    Two Pennsylvania men have been charged with sexually exploiting children through online advertisements, as announced by Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane’s office.

    Jeffrey Alan Harvey, 39, and David R Parker, 37, have been arrested on various counts of possession of child pornography as well as soliciting sex with minors.

    Harvey was arrested after attempting to solicit sex with an individual who he thought was a 13-year-old boy, but was actually agents from the Office of Attorney General's Child Predator Section. The agents posed as the boy after responding to Harvey’s Craiglist advertisement.

    According to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Harvey requested to visit the boy’s house and engage in various sexual acts via email. After arriving at the pre-determined location to meet the boy, Harvey was arrested on counts of unlawful contact with a minor, as well as criminal attempt to commit involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, criminal attempt to commit statutory sexual assault and criminal use of a communication facility.

    Harvey’s arrest and interview with agents notified investigators about other individuals who were seeking sex with minors, including Parker. The investigators then conducted a search of Parker’s residence, and found numerous images of child pornography. Parker is charged with 10 counts of possession of child pornography, as well as one count of criminal use of a communication device.

    A former firefighter, Shane Streater, 41, of Camden, New Jersey added insult to fake injury after collecting disability checks amounting in more than $82,000...despite continuing to teach jiu jitsu classes and participate competitively in mixed martial arts.

    In 2009. Streater applied for disability, citing that two incidents at work led him to be disabled and unable to continue working, claiming that his neck and back were badly injured after a car struck his firetruck and after driving over a pothole.

    After a doctor’s examination, experts concluded that Streater’s “disability” was caused by pre-existing conditions, not by the incidents happening on the job. In 2010 however, the PFRS Board awarded Streater with disability compensation. Later, a deputy attorney general and investigator found that Streater was teaching a jiu jitsu class more than twice a week at a mixed martial arts academy, despite his “injuries.”

    A YouTube video of Streater competing and winning a bronze medal in the Grapplers Quest Mixed Martial Arts Tournament in June 2010 also surfaced, prompting the PFRS Board to revoke his disability pension.

    As a result, Streater will spend seven years in state prison, in addition to paying a full restitution of $82,488. He has also been banned from public employment in New Jersey.

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  • 07/06/16--08:51: It's Always About The Money

  • For the mob, it's always about the money.

    0 0
  • 07/09/16--15:34: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab of what’s going 
    on in the courts.

    By Logan Beck
    For BigTrial.Net

    Trust can take years to build and seconds to destroy, as evidenced by a Florida investment advisor who defrauded his clients of approximately $800,000 total, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

    Sean Donald Premock, 43, was fired from a previous employer after selling investments that were not approved. After he was let go, he began his own business venture, creating his own investment and financial planning companies...which he allegedly used to steal from his clients.

    The indictment states that Premock used his businesses to trick his clients, mostly elderly citizens, out of money, claiming that he was investing their money safely, but was actually using their investments on himself and other clients.

    Despite being permanently barred by FINRA, and having his licenses to work as a stock broker and advisor suspended, Premock continued working, sweeping the information under the rug and away from his clients.

    As a result, he is being charged with 9 counts of mail fraud, 9 counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, and one count of investment adviser fraud. Premock faces a maximum of 385 years in prison, a five-year supervised release, a $9,510,000 fine, and more.

    When a woman receives an ultrasound, doctors use a special gel on her stomach that allows an image of the infant to appear on a screen. The gel is also used for other medical procedures such as an EKG.

    In February of 2012, a hospital in Michigan reported that 16 patients were infected with a bacterial pathogen known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and the ultrasound gel from Pharmaceutical Innovations Inc. was to blame.

    According to the Center for Disease Control, Pseudomonas aeruginosa can generally be treated with antibiotics, however in hospitalized patients, treatment may not be so simple, due to antibiotic resistance.

    On July 6, Pharmaceutical Innovations Inc, a medical device manufacturer based out of Newark pleaded guilty after it distributed contaminated ultrasound gel.
    The company is being charged with two misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated medical devices into interstate commerce, a criminal fine of $50,000, and must forfeit the value of the unadulterated ultrasound gel, around $50,000. Additionally, the company faces a two year suspension.

    A New Jersey man successfully proved that blood is not always thicker than water after attempting to steal thousands of dollars from his elderly aunt’s annuity.

    Jason Crozier, 45, somehow managed to impersonate his aunt several times in both phone calls and emails to Prudential Insurance Company of America.

    While he obviously did not receive permission from his aunt to make said phone calls, he readily distributed her private information to the company including her social security number, birth date, and annuity contract number. He then submitted paperwork to withdraw $5,500 from her account.

    Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Christopher Iu said in a statement that fraud and financial crimes against the elderly have serious consequences, as Crozier found out the hard way.

    “This sentence should serve as a strong deterrent to anyone tempted to line their pockets through criminal deceit,” Iu said.

    Crozier was sentenced to five years in prison, after being found guilty of second-degree insurance fraud, third-degree attempted theft  by deception, and fourth-degree identify theft.

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  • 07/16/16--06:00: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab of what’s going 
    on in the courts.

    By Logan Beck

    A Souderton, PA man’ fate was sealed on July 13 and will serve 15 years in prison for distributing and possessing a mass amount of child pornography.

    Ian Ranberg, 50, was initially arrested in 2013 after he allegedly received images of child pornography in May, August and September of that year. In 2014, Ranberg pled guilty to distribution, receipt, and possession of child pornography.

    The investigation began as part of Project Safe Childhood, an initiative created to combat the growing child sexual abuse and exploitation across the nation.

    In total, law enforcement collected hundreds of thousands of child pornography images from various electronic devices including external hard drives from Ranberg’s home.

    As part of his sentence, Ranberg also faces 10 years of supervised release, restitution of $25,000, and a $400 special assessment.

    Cheaters never win...instead, they get 10 years probation.

    Evelyn Cortez, 61, “promoted a culture of cheating on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams,” according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General.

    These tests, known as the PSSAs, are administered to assess language arts and mathematics skills in children from grades 3-8.

    Prior to her arrest, Cortez served as the principal of Cayuga Elementary School in Philadelphia. She is the first defendant from Cayuga being sentenced.

    In May 2014, Cortez was arrested after rumors emerged that she and other educators from Cayuga changed answers, provided students with correct answers, and reviewed the PSSAs before submitting them.

    Cortez supposedly entered classrooms during the test, and tapped her pencil indicating that a student needed to change an answer in the test booklet. She also is accused of reprimanding teachers who did not participate in the PSSA cheating, as well as students who refused to change their answers.

    Cortez faces seven years probation for tampering with evidence and criminal conspiracy, three years of consecutive probation on a perjury charge, 100 hours of community service, and also had her teaching certificate revoked.

    Juanita L. Berry, 48, of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, faces five years in prison after selling millions of dollars worth of telecommunications equipment.

    From 2008-2011, Berry worked as a consultant for a telecommunications company in Indiana, beginning as a sales representatives and eventually moving up in the ranks to vice president. She worked in both the Levittown, Pennsylvania office and the Dayton, New Jersey office. The company installed and removed electronic circuit boards ranging in price from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.

    On the side, Berry owned a company known as J. Starr Communications Inc., and used that company to commit a fraudulent crime. Berry sold new and used cards from the company as if  they were her own, and pocketed the earnings amassing $3.5 million.

    In addition to five years in prison, Berry faces three years of supervised release and a restitution of $3.4 million.

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  • 07/23/16--07:33: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab of what’s going 
    on in the courts.

    By Logan Beck

    On May 15, it was not business as usual for one popular Philadelphia eatery.

    James Parker, 50, of Philadelphia, was officially indicted on July 21 after violently robbing Tavern on Broad, a Center City restaurant, back in May.

    According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Parker pistol-whipped an employee at the restaurant, and eventually forced him to open the safe. That night, Parker fled with approximately $8,000 cash.

    As a result of the robbery, Parker is being charged with robbery that interferes with interstate commerce, as well as using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

    If proven guilty, Parker faces a potential sentence of life in prison.

    Two New Jersey men are facing charges after executing an armed home invasion...while disguised as police officers.

    Clemente R. Carlos, 29, and Jason Thompson, 33, confronted a female victim and her baby as she was leaving her apartment around 7 a.m. on Aug. 12, 2015. The two then led the woman back into her apartment, as she assumed they were  Passaic County officers.

    Once they got inside, Thompson held a gun to the female victim’s brother’s head, and zip-tied his hands behind his back, forcing him to the ground.

    After failing to find any money in the apartment, Carlos and Thompson fled the scene.

    Both men face charges of conspiracy to commit a Hobbs Act robbery, in addition to home invasion, kidnapping, various weapon offenses, endangering the welfare of a minor, and more. According to the criminal complaint, Thompson is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    What started as a seemingly normal pizza order ended in an armed robbery of a pizza delivery man.

    Kameron Watts, 20, of Pleasantville, N.J. and Deshawn DeWitt, 19, of Willingboro, N.J. devised a plan to carjack an unsuspecting pizza delivery man’s vehicle. The two ordered three pizzas on Aug. 28, 2014, and waited, hiding behind trees as the driver approached the house. After no one answered the door, the driver returned to his car and was met with Watts and DeWitt, both masked, along with two guns pointed at him.

    After being told to “give them everything he had,” the driver gave them his cell phone, the keys to his car, and of course, the pizzas.

    Watts and DeWitt then drove off in the vehicle, and later left it at a recreational center in Pleasantville.

    Watts was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and 8 ½ years of parole ineligibility. DeWitt is being sought as a fugitive after failing to attend his first scheduled sentencing.

    Gerald Eugene Friley, 56, had been under the watchful eye of investigators from the Blair County Drug Task Force before delivering a batch of laced drugs to a confidential informant.

    Gerald Eugene Friley 
    According to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Friley distributed 100 fentanyl-laced pills, and upon investigation, an additional 14 laced pills were found inside the vehicle. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid medication that is often abused for its “heroin-like” effect.

    Friley disguised the pills as Oxycodone.

    Friley is charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, criminal use of a communication facility, manufacture, sale or possession of an adulterated or misbranded substance, altering a drug container or identification with intent to defraud, sale, distribution or possession of a controlled substance, and driving with a suspended license.

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  • 07/26/16--13:09: Msgr. Lynn A Free Man
  • By Ralph Cipriano


    Msgr. William J. Lynn, the central figure in the district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Philadelphia archdiocese for sex abuse, is a free man.

    That’s because today, the state Supreme Court, in a one-page decision, announced it would not review a second reversal of Lynn’s original conviction by the state Superior Court.

    After serving 33 months in jail, and 15 months under house arrest, Lynn could be on a bus to Philadelphia as early as tomorrow.

    “It’s been a long time coming,” said Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn’s lawyer. “We’ll file a bail motion first thing in the morning.”

    Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was convicted in 2012 on one count of endangering the welfare of a child.  He was sentenced to three to six years in jail by the trial judge in the case. M. Teresa Sarmina.

     The alleged victim in the case, however, was Danny Gallagher, aka “Billy Doe,” who had all kinds of credibility problems, as recounted multiple times on this blog as well as in a Jan. 29thNewsweek cover story.

    This is the second go-around for Lynn with both the state Superior Court, and the state Supreme Court.

    In December, 2013, the state Superior Court reversed Lynn's conviction by saying that the state’s original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn.

    District Attorney Seth Williams appealed to the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Lynn got out jail on house arrest. In April 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled in the D.A.'s favor, saying the child endangerment law did apply to Lynn, and he was sent back to jail.

    In December 2015, the state Superior Court, for the second time in three years, overturned Lynn's conviction, and ordered a new trial. A panel of three Superior Court judges ruled that the trial court had "abused its discretion" by allowing 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse to be admitted as evidence against Msgr. Lynn.

    The 21 cases dated back to 1948, three years before the 65-year-old Lynn was born, and took up at least 25 days of the 32-day trial. In his appeal brief, Lynn's lawyers argued that the prosecution "introduced these files to put on trial the entire Archdiocese of Philadelphia, hoping to convict [Lynn] by proxy for the sins of the entire church."

    The Superior Court judges agreed, ruling that the "probative value" of the supplemental cases "did not outweigh its potential for unfair prejudice, and that this potential prejudice was not overcome by the trial court's cautionary instructions."

    In their decision, the Superior Court judges wrote that Judge Sarmina "has apparently mistaken quantity for quality in construing the probative value of this evidence en masse." The Superior Court judges further declared that the "probative value of significant quantities of this evidence was trivial or minimal."

    The district attorney then appealed the state Superior Court's reversal of Lynn's sentence to the state Supreme Court, hoping he would get lucky again.

    In a one-page order today, however, the state Supreme Court announced that "the petition for allowance of appeal is denied." And that the district attorney's "petition for leave to respond to Lynn's answer is denied."

    Lynn, according to his lawyer, will be freed because he is an “unconvicted and unsentenced individual who is obviously entitled to reasonable bail, and a new trial.”

    Earlier this month, the state parole board voted to release Lynn on bail in October, when his three year minimum sentence was up. But now that the state Supreme Court has ruled it will not review the reversal of Lynn’s conviction, he will be released immediately, according to his lawyer.

    Lynn was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute at Waymart, where he served as prison librarian, earning 19 cents an hour by while he checked books in and out for fellow inmates, and also kept track of periodicals.

    When the state Superior Court reversed Lynn's conviction, they also granted him a new trial. 

    “At least if we have another trial, it will be a fair trial,” Bergstrom said. He meant that if the case is retried, the district attorney will not be able to parade 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse before a jury, as the D.A. did the first time the case was tried back in 2012.

    Asked if that trial will happen, Bergstrom said, "That's up to the D.A."

    A spokesperson for the D.A. responded that "The Office is currently reviewing the decision."

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  • 07/30/16--06:00: The Roundup
  • A weekly tab of what’s going 
    on in the courts.

    By Logan Beck

    On July 19, a Hudson County, New Jersey man allegedly ran over a federal police officer with a 2009 Grand Jeep Cherokee. As a result, he could face as many charges as he has nicknames.

    Hakim G. Taylor, otherwise known as “Scott Taylor,” “Hakim Horton, “Anthony Lance,” and “Hakim Smith” was being observed by law enforcement after he was suspected of participating in narcotics transactions.

    According to the New Jersey Attorney General, once he and an accomplice realized police were hot on their trail, Taylor hopped into the driver’s seat of the Jeep, and refused to exit the vehicle...even after he was told to do so by a special agent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigation (HSI).

    The special agent eventually exited his undercover vehicle, ordering Taylor to surrender. Taylor then drove the Jeep into the officer, inflicting multiple lacerations and abrasions on impact.

    If proven guilty, Taylor faces a potential sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    In an eerily similar incident to Taylor’s, a Middlesex County, New Jersey man has been indicted after attempting to murder a police officer back in 2015 by hitting him with his attempt to escape a drug arrest.

    Isaiah Roberts, 39, had made at least four heroin sales to undercover officers during an ongoing investigation by the Middlesex County Gangs, Guns and Drugs Task Force. The force arranged for an undercover officer to purchase five “bricks” of heroin from Roberts in a pharmacy parking lot in Sayreville, New Jersey.

    Law enforcement intended for multiple vehicles and officers to be used during Robert’s arrest, but his surrender did not go as planned.

    Roberts entered the parking lot, but did not approach the vehicle to complete the sale. Instead, he attempted to flee the parking lot, and after seeing his path blocked by police vehicles, he drove the vehicle in reverse through the parking lot, sending an officer flying through the air.

    But Roberts did not stop there.
    Officers attempted to stop him by firing rounds from a service rifle, but his rampage was halted  only after he crashed into multiple police vehicles.

    Roberts faces a potential 10-20 year prison sentence and fine of $200,000 for a first-degree attempted murder charge, a 5-10 year prison sentence and fine of $150,000 for a second-degree charge, and a 3-5 year prison sentence and fine of $35,000 for third-degree charges.

    John Bowman Thornberry, 28, is being charged with the attempted sexual assault and the sexual assault of two international exchange students.

    A former employee of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, Thornberry was a “house parent” and was assigned to assist students with homework assignments, as well as keeping track of students outside of the classroom.

    The attempted sexual assault and the assault allegedly occurred where the victims lived: in the school residence hall. The incidents occurred between December 2014 and February 2016, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General. His arrest came after an investigation spearheaded by the Office of Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigations and the Ebensburg Police Department.

    Bishop Carroll Catholic High School is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, a diocese that has been investigated over 37 times for sexual abuse at the hand of religious leaders.

    Thornberry is charged with institutional sexual assault, criminal attempted sexual assault, attempted indecent assault, indecent assault, corruption of minors, and endangering the welfare of a child.

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    At a bail hearing set for Tuesday morning, Msgr. William J. Lynn is expected to walk out of court as a free man.

    The next move in the legal odyssey will be up to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

    The rest of the story can be read here.

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    On the day that Msgr. Lynn got out of jail, the D.A. announced that he will retry the case.

    Story can be read here.

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    Should the Chaka Fattah corruption case have ended in a mistrial?

    That's the story according to one dismissed juror who's speaking out. Story can be read here.

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