|Dr. William J. O'Brien III|
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Bucks County doctor charged with running pill mill
Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2015
A Bucks County doctor who operated pain management practices and spearheaded a failed effort to buy Lower Bucks Hospital has been charged with running a prescription “pill mill” out of his medical offices in Philadelphia and Bristol Township.
Dr. William J. O’Brien III, 49, of Philadelphia, was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and 26 counts of illegally distributing drugs outside the usual course of professional practice and for no legitimate medical purpose. The drugs included oxycodone, a powerful painkiller, and Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety, according to U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger of the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
His receptionist at two offices — Angela Rongione, 29, also of Philadelphia — was also charged Thursday with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
Authorities allege that between January and December 2014, O’Brien’s so-called “patients” could obtain prescriptions for addictive narcotics without a physical exam or other medical care or treatment for a fee, and that O’Brien then falsified “medical” records to make it look as though the patients were examined.
The prescriptions were allegedly sold out of his medical offices in the 9800 block of Bustleton Avenue and 40 block of Rolling Lane in Bristol Township.
O’Brien, who is licensed in Pennsylvania as a doctor of osteopathic medicine, typically charged customers $250 for the first appointment to buy prescriptions and $200 for an appointment to obtain refills, the indictment stated. On one occasion, in October, he allegedly offered to trade a prescription for a sex act.
Patients paid cash, which O’Brien and Rongione referred to as the customer’s “co-pay,” the indictment said. To avoid detection by law enforcement, O’Brien told customers to fill prescriptions at pharmacies located “at a distance” from his offices, the indictment alleges.
Over the monthslong investigation, two undercover FBI agents allegedly purchased prescriptions for narcotics from O’Brien. One agent purchased scripts for 6,200 tablets, while another obtained scripts for 1,020 tablets, according to the indictment.
Rongione specifically is accused of assisting O’Brien with screening customers, scheduling appointments, collecting cash and keeping records of the prescriptions O’Brien sold, the indictment said.
If convicted, O’Brien faces 20 years in prison for the conspiracy charge, five years for each distribution count and “substantial fines and criminal forfeiture,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Rongione faces 20 years in prison on the conspiracy charge.
Until nearly four years ago, O’Brien was well known in the Lower Bucks medical community for operating a network of medical and pain management practices in Bucks, Philadelphia and Lehigh counties as well as other medical business ventures.
In 2009, he headed the creation of Doctors’ Hospital of Bucks County LLC, a group of about 80 local doctors who attempted to buy the then-financially troubled Lower Bucks Hospital before it declared bankruptcy. O’Brien’s hyperbaric oxygen business — Hyper-Ox Inc. — had operated out of the Bristol Township hospital between 2007 and 2010.
O’Brien’s corporation, WJO Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010. The company included O’Brien’s medical practices, Hyper-Ox and East Coast TMR, a work injury-related pain management practice. At the time, both its assets and liabilities were between $10 and $50 million, according to the court filing.
After the bankruptcy filing, the hyperbaric oxygen practice came under federal scrutiny.
In 2011, the FBI seized records and materials related to the business during a raid at four of his then-seven medical offices in Bucks and Philadelphia. Also seized was O’Brien’s self-invented and patented multiperson hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
The search warrants included only records and items connected to Hyper-Ox, not O’Brien’s medical or physical therapy practices, according to O’Brien. Federal officials have never publicly commented on the Hyper-Ox investigation.
O’Brien said he suspected the government had questions about the safety of his 10-person hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which was moved to an undisclosed location in Fort Dix, New Jersey, according to documents related to his 2011 bankruptcy filing.
The bankruptcy documents also suggest that O’Brien believed an “unhappy” former employee may have instigated the FBI probe into the hyperbaric oxygen business, which he was counting on to revive his string of medical practices. He planned to use the therapy to treat workers’ compensation back injury and concussion patients.