Friday, July 24, 2015
Former Bucks County doctor charged in patient's death, pill mill scheme
Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2015
A suspended Bucks County doctor, already facing federal charges for an alleged cash-only pill mill that netted nearly $2 million in fewer than three years, is now accused in the death of one of his former patients.
Dr. William J. O’Brien III, 49, is responsible for the death of an unidentified patient to whom he prescribed a muscle relaxant known as Flexeril, as well as oxycodone and methadone at his Bristol Township practice in December 2013, according to a superseding federal indictment released Thursday. The patient died of an overdose related to the drug combination, authorities allege. The indictment alleges that O’Brien prescribed the patient 120 pills of 30 mg oxycodone, 60 pills of 10 mg methadone and 540 pills of Flexeril.
O’Brien, whose license to practice medicine in Pennsylvania has been suspended, also faces 95 additional counts of distribution of controlled substances, specifically oxycodone, methadone and amphetamines, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.
O’Brien’s ex-wife Elizabeth Hibbs, 54, and eight others are also charged in the indictment in connection with the alleged illegal drug sales and fraud.
Authorities allege that the couple diverted assets from O’Brien’s company, WJO Inc., to their personal accounts and accounts they controlled. They also allegedly concealed other assets and knowingly made a false statement under oath during bankruptcy proceedings.
The others named in the indictment are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
They are Philadelphia residents Michael Thompson, 49, Peter Marrandino, 48, Joseph Mehl, 48, Patrick Treacy, 47, Charles Johnson, 46, Frank Corazo Jr., 52, and Jennifer Lynn Chambers, 21. Joseph Mitchell Sr., 39, of West Deptford, New Jersey, was also charged.
Federal agents said six of the defendants were arrested Thursday, but they did not say which ones.
O’Brien and the defendants allegedly developed a scheme whereby they recruited so-called “patients” who would typically pay O’Brien $200 cash in exchange for prescriptions for controlled substances. Once the prescriptions were filled, the “patients” handed over the drugs to the defendants who would sell them to drug dealers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
With cash-paying “patients,” O’Brien could conceal money from creditors and the United States Bankruptcy Court, where he had filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2010 for WJO, a group of medical practices including a pain management and hyperbaric oxygen practice.
The feds allege that between March 2012 and January, O’Brien, a doctor of osteopathy with a string of family practices in Bucks, Lehigh and Philadelphia counties, dispensed about 378,914 oxycodone pills and approximately 160,492 methadone pills. The estimated street value of the controlled substances was approximately $5 million.
Thompson, Marrandino, Mehl, Mitchell and Treacy — all described in court papers as members or associates of the Pagans outlaw motorcycle group — along with Chambers and Corazo allegedly conspired with O’Brien to distribute the drugs for profit.
Thompson and Corazo are also charged with health care fraud for allegedly using Medicaid health insurance to pay for the medically unnecessary controlled substances prescribed by O’Brien.
Hibbs, who at times was the chief operating officer and chief executive officer for WJO, and O’Brien were married when the bankruptcy petition was filed. They later divorced, though continued to live and work together, the indictment shows.
If convicted of all charges, O’Brien faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life behind bars. The remaining defendants face substantial prison terms and fines, and are subject to criminal forfeiture proceedings.
O’Brien was initially charged Jan. 29 with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and 26 counts of illegally distributing oxycodone and Xanax at his practices in Bristol Township and Philadelphia. He allegedly sold prescriptions for narcotics to an undercover federal agent and a confidential informant.
Prosecutors initially alleged that O’Brien collected $1.8 million in fees between January and December 2014 for writing 4,663 prescriptions for addictive narcotics without performing a physical exam or other medical care or treatment. O’Brien also allegedly falsified medical records to make it look as though the patients were examined.
O’Brien remains in federal custody without bail.
His receptionist, Angela Rongione 29, of Philadelphia, was charged in January with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. She is free on her own recognizance until trial.
In 2009, O’Brien headed 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.
In 2011, the FBI seized records and materials related to Hyper-Ox during raids 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. Federal officials have not publicly commented on the Hyper-Ox investigation.