Earlier today, a reporter named Abby Haglage who covers “diseases, drugs, and comedians” for The Daily Beast, published an article titled “The Motorcycle Gang Behind Philly’s Biggest Pill Mill.” It is a great headline. Nothing grabs people’s attention like the phrase “motorcycle gang.”
But the headline is grossly misleading. Haglage’s amateurishly sourced story is twisted by her devotion to the Pagan’s angle. Among numerous errors, she misidentifies a superseding indictment unsealed on July 14 as a “report.”
What actually happened was that a Philadelphia osteopath named William J. O’Brien III, who had already been investigated by the FBI at least once, decided to get rich by selling prescriptions for pain killers into the black market. Coincidently, six members of the Pagans were seduced by the doctor with the lure of easy money. The relative importance of the doctor and the Pagans can be deduced from the Department of Justice press release that announced the amended indictment. The release states “If convicted of all charges, O’Brien faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life. The remaining defendants face substantial prison terms and fines and are subject to criminal forfeiture proceedings.”
O’Brien went bankrupt in 2010 and, with the assistance of his secretary Angela Rongione, started moving prescriptions for oxycodone, methadone and Xanax in 2012. He charged his patients $250 cash for a first visit and $200 for each subsequent visit. The scheme attracted the attention of the FBI sometime before 2014. By then O’Brien had gotten reckless. In a tape recorded conversation with an undercover FBI agent in October 2014, O’Brien “offered to trade a prescription for oral sex.”
The indictment alleges that O’Brien recruited members of the Pagans into his scheme in March 2012. A Pagan named Joseph Mehl who worked as a tow truck driver, “referred individuals involved in automobile accidents” to O’Brien “in exchange for prescriptions for controlled substances.”
Mehl introduced O’Brien to a now dead Pagan identified in the indictment as “S.N.” who “had access to illegal drug distributors.” S.N., apparently, knew people who could move product and they were willing to pay cash. “With cash-paying patients,” the indictment notes, O’Brien “could conceal money from, among others, creditors and the United States Bankruptcy Court.”
S.N. and Mehl introduced four other Pagans to this gravy train: Michael “Tomato Pie” Thompson, Peter “Nose” Marrandino, Joseph Mitchell and Patrick “Redneck” Treacy. All four of them also had social or professional contacts that were eager to obtain prescriptions for Xanax, methadone and oxycodone. They became O’Brien’s patients and eventually all six of the Pagans recruited “patients” of their own who went to O’Brien and then, allegedly, turned their bogus prescriptions over to one of the Pagans named in the indictment.
The Pagans involvement, starting with Mehl, seems to have started as a variation on a common insurance scheme called “capping” or “running” that any tow truck driver, Pagan or not, would be expected to know. Cappers, who often work for body repair shops or tow truck companies, refer people who have been involved in minor, or sometimes staged, automobile accidents to unscrupulous physicians who then over diagnose the accident victims and make up fictitious and expensive courses of treatment for them. The doctors then split their fraudulent profits with both the capper and the accident “victim.”
Eventually, O’Brien’s partnership with the six Pagans became cartoonish. O’Brien “provided the Pagans members with a separate entrance. Defendant O’Brien referred to defendant Treacy and his associates as his ‘VIP’ patients. Occasionally, defendant O’Brien brought prescriptions for controlled substances to defendant Treacy while defendant Treacy waited outside the office in his car.”
Treacy “mockingly reported on the medical history form for his initial visit with defendant William J. O’Brien III that he had been pregnant ‘lots’ of times; that he was menstruating; and that recently he had a Pap test, which screens for cervical cancer.”
According to the indictment, Mehl “recruited dancers from Philadelphia-area men’s clubs, including Oasis Gentlemen’s Club, which was frequented by Pagans members, to obtain medically unnecessary prescriptions for controlled substances…. Defendant Mehl would typically pay the pharmacy fee and take a portion of the ‘patient’s’ pills for himself. Defendant O’Brien would offer prescriptions for controlled substances in exchange for sex. For example, in order to obtain prescriptions for controlled
substances, Persons #9 and #10, ‘patients’ of defendant O’Brien whose identities are known to the grand jury, would perform oral sex on defendant O’Brien.”
The indictment makes it clear that the six Pagan’s who allegedly participated in O’Brien’s racket were not “Behind Philly’s Biggest Pill Mill.” O’Brien was behind it. “In or around May 2014, defendant William J. O’Brien III, at the direction of defendant Michael Thompson, ‘discharged’ defendant Joseph Mitchell, from his practice. The abrupt ‘discharge’ left defendant Mitchell without a source of controlled substances for resale. Defendant Mitchell complained to defendant Patrick Treacy that he had been ‘cut off from the doc’ at the direction of defendant Thompson. As a result of losing income from his role in the conspiracy, defendant Mitchell was ‘forced’ to seek legitimate employment. Defendant Mitchell complained to defendant Treacy that
‘workin’ every day…is for the birds…ain’t for Pagans.”
Eventually, the Pagans “caused disruptions at” some of O’Brien’s offices. “Because Pagan members and associates continued to cause disruption…members of the office staff expressed strong concerns about their personal safety to Physician #1, who was employed by (O’Brien) and whose identity is known to the grand jury.”
The Pagan Menace
For reasons known only to Haglage and her editors, the story published today is at least as much about accusations made against the Pagans Club as a whole over the last thrity yeas as it is about O’Brien’s prescription racket or the six Pagans he recruited to participate in it.
The Daily Beast informs readers, “It wasn’t just a mom-and-pop pain clinic; it was a sophisticated drug ring run with The Pagan Motorcycle Gang.”
The Pagans are described, without substantiation, as “Nazi-loving white supremacists.” While she finds the “allegations” against O’Brien to be “disturbing, the participation of the Pagan’s is even more dangerous. Their participation is significant not just to this case, but the entirety of the opioid epidemic.”
She alleges the “Pagan’s” (Sic) are “an incredibly dangerous organization” and that club members “are regularly tied to arson, bombings, and murders, and one of the gang’s favorite hobbies is stockpiling machine guns.”
Haglage’s story is riddled with half truths. One that begs for elaboration is her statement that in September 2010, “authorities arrested 19 Pagans after uncovering a plot to murder Hell’s Angels members with grenades.” It is true that 19 Pagans or friends of the club were arrested. It is simply not true, as anybody who had bothered to check the disposition of the case would have known. Most of the allegations in that case were invented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In is unlikely that the public at large will be offended by Haglage’s yellow journalism. Regular readers of this page probably will be.