PHILADELPHIA – Today, a federal judge sentenced William J. O’Brien III, a former doctor of osteopathic medicine, to 30 years in prison for illegal distribution of controlled substances resulting in death and additional charges arising from O’Brien’s operation of a pill mill. United States District Court Judge Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro also ordered the defendant to serve five years of supervised release upon release from prison; pay restitution of $342,504 to the bankruptcy trustee in connection with his conviction for conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud; and pay a special assessment of $12,300. The court also entered a judgment of forfeiture.
“We are pleased with the substantial sentence imposed on the defendant in this case,” said United States Attorney Zane David Memeger. “Those doctors who distribute dangerous prescription drugs for no legitimate medical purpose need to be held fully accountable when their irresponsible conduct leads to death and addiction among patients.”
On July 14, 2015, a grand jury in Philadelphia charged O’Brien and nine codefendants in a 139-count Second Superseding Indictment (‘the indictment”) with conspiring to distribute controlled substances and other crimes. O’Brien was also charged with 121 separate counts of distribution of controlled substances, and distribution resulting in death. In addition to O’Brien, the defendants charged in the indictment included members and associates of the Pagans Motorcycle Club (“Pagans”), an outlaw gang known for violence and drug dealing. O’Brien and his paramour Elizabeth Hibbs were charged with conspiracy to engage in money laundering, conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud, and making false statements under oath in bankruptcy proceedings.
On June 28, 2016, after a six-week trial, a jury found O’Brien guilty of all charges in the indictment except for four distribution counts. All codefendants in the case have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
The evidence at trial showed that O’Brien worked together with Pagans and their associates to operate a “pill mill” out of O’Brien’s medical offices. O’Brien wrote fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and other drugs, while the Pagans and their associates recruited “pseudo-patients” to buy the fraudulent prescriptions. O’Brien charged $250 cash for the first appointment to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances and $200 cash for each subsequent visit. Oxycodone (30 mg) was in high demand by drug dealers who could sell each pill on the street for $25 to $30. O’Brien sold prescriptions for these dangerous and addictive drugs to hundreds of “pseudo-patients.” After filling the prescriptions, the Pagans and their associates resold the pills on the street. The trial evidence showed that from March 2012 to January 2015, more than 700,000 pills containing oxycodone and other Schedule II controlled substances were distributed by O’Brien in furtherance of the conspiracy. O’Brien generated for himself an estimated $2 million in cash proceeds from the drug trafficking conspiracy.
In connection with his operation of the pill mill, and as proven at trial, O’Brien intentionally distributed, for no legitimate medical purpose, oxycodone, methadone, and cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxer, to Joseph Ennis, 38, of Bucks County. Mr. Ennis had initially sought treatment from O’Brien following a car accident. On December 17, 2013, O’Brien prescribed oxycodone and methadone without a legitimate medical purpose, which combined with the cyclobenzaprine, led to Mr. Ennis’ death. Mr. Ennis died five days later on December 22, 2013 from the combination of these substances. At sentencing, Mrs. Bridget Shaw, Mr. Ennis’ sister, asked the Court to consider “the countless victims [O’Brien] fooled who are not here to represent themselves. The patients he turned into addicts for his profit and their families who are now left swimming in hospital bills or worse, wondering how this hell came to be . . . Rather than save lives, according to the oath he took, he chose to ruin them.”
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mary Beth Leahy and David E. Troyer.