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United States v. Caramadre

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 7, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JOSEPH CARAMADRE, Defendant, Appellant

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APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND. Hon. William E. Smith, U.S. District Judge, Hon. Patricia A. Sullivan, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

Randy Olen, with whom Alan M. Dershowitz and Robert F. Weber were on brief, for appellant.

Donald C. Lockhart, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Peter F. Neronha, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Chief Judge, Selya, Circuit Judge, and Laplante,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

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SELYA, Circuit Judge.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging defendant-appellant Joseph Caramadre with masterminding one of the most avaricious frauds in Rhode Island history. Caramadre went to trial, but things did not go well for him and, after four days, he entered into a plea agreement with the government. The district court accepted his changed plea.

Some months later (but before sentencing), Caramadre experienced a change of heart. Represented by new counsel, he sought to retract his guilty plea. Following a multi-day evidentiary hearing, the district court denied his motion. Sentencing ensued.

Caramadre's appeals, taken collectively, advance an infinity of arguments, characterized by clangorous sound and unrestrained fury. But fiery rhetoric alone is not enough to breathe life into moribund arguments and, after close scrutiny, we conclude that Caramadre's appeals are without merit. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment below.

I. BACKGROUND

We sketch the origin and travel of the case, assuming the reader's familiarity with a number of other judicial opinions. See, e.g., W. Reserve Life Assur. Co. of Ohio v. ADM Assocs., LLC, 737 F.3d 135 (1st Cir. 2013); United States v. Caramadre, No. 11-186, 2014 WL 409336 (D.R.I. Feb. 3, 2014); United States v. Caramadre, No. 11-186, 2013 WL 7138109 (D.R.I. Nov. 26, 2013); United States v. Caramadre, No. 11-186, 2013 WL 7138106 (D.R.I. Nov. 6, 2013); United States v. Caramadre, 957 F.Supp.2d 160 (D.R.I. 2013); W. Reserve Life Assur. Co. of Ohio v. ADM Assocs., LLC, 116 A.3d 794 (R.I. 2015).

Under the government's theory of the case, Caramadre -- a lawyer and accountant -- and his codefendant, Raymour Radhakrishnan, engaged for well over a

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decade in a scheme to defraud various financial institutions. Caramadre and Radhakrishnan implemented the scheme by fraudulently obtaining the identifying information of terminally ill individuals through material misrepresentations and omissions. They then invested in variable annuities and corporate bonds with death-benefit features, using the identities of these unwitting individuals as measuring lives. When a terminally ill individual died, Caramadre and Radhakrishnan cashed in the annuities and bonds and captured the profits.[1]

Based on the scope of the fraud alleged in the sixty-six-count indictment and the large number of anticipated government witnesses, the trial was expected to last over three months. On November 19, 2012 -- four days into the trial -- Caramadre and Radhakrishnan entered into plea agreements and admitted their guilt to two counts: one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and identity theft. The district court accepted their pleas, and the government later dismissed the remaining counts.[2]

Nearly two months passed. Caramadre's attorneys then moved to withdraw from their representation of him, and his new counsel informed the district court that Caramadre intended to seek leave to retract his guilty plea. Caramadre filed such a motion on February 28, 2013. The government objected, and the district court held a protracted evidentiary hearing. The court denied the motion from the bench at the conclusion of the hearing and followed up with a fuller exposition in a written rescript issued on August 1, 2013. See Caramadre, 957 F.Supp.2d at 186.

On December 16, 2013, the district court sentenced Caramadre to a six-year term of immurement. The court had previously referred the question of restitution to a magistrate judge. Prior to the imposition of the prison sentence, the magistrate judge conducted an evidentiary hearing and recommended restitution of approximately $46,000,000. See Caramadre, 2013 WL 7138109 at *2; Caramadre, 2013 WL 7138106 at *19. Over Caramadre's protest, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's recommendation. See Caramadre, 2014 WL 409336, at *1.

Caramadre timely appealed and, on September 8, 2014, he tendered his opening brief to this court. The brief referred to statements allegedly made by the district court at an unrecorded and untranscribed chambers conference held on January 15, 2013. Because those statements were not part of the record, we struck his brief and ordered him to refile it without reference to anything supposedly said at the conference. Caramadre complied.

But that was not the end of the matter: Caramadre moved in the district court for a statement of what had transpired at the January 15 conference. See Fed. R. App. P. 10(c). On January 5, 2015, the district court rejected Caramadre's version of what had occurred and substituted its own recollection. See United States v. Caramadre, No. 11-186 (D.R.I. Jan. 5, 2015) (unpublished order). Caramadre again appealed, sparking a new round of appellate briefing.

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Caramadre's appeals raise a golconda of issues. We discuss here only those claims of error that possess a patina of plausibility. The rest are either patently meritless, insufficiently developed, or both. Consequently, we reject them out of hand.

II. PLEA-WITHDRAWAL MOTION

Caramadre offers several arguments in support of his assertion that the district court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. These include claims that the court employed the wrong legal standard in deciding the motion, that the court abused its discretion in balancing the relevant factors, and that the court " exhibited bias and prejudged the motion." We find none of these claims persuasive.

A. Legal Standard.

The logical starting point is Caramadre's claim that the district court used an " erroneous" legal standard when ruling on the motion to withdraw. This claim presents a pure question of law and, thus, engenders de novo review.[3] See United States v. Gates, 709 F.3d 58, 69 (1st Cir. 2013).

It is common ground that a defendant has no absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea. See United States v. Ramos-Mejía, 721 F.3d 12, 14 (1st Cir. 2013); Gates, 709 F.3d at 68. When a defendant moves to withdraw a guilty plea after the court has accepted it but before the court has sentenced him, he may do so only if he " can show a fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal." Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(2)(B); see Gates, 709 F.3d at 68; United States v. Marrero-Rivera, 124 F.3d 342, 347 (1st Cir. 1997). The burden rests with the defendant to make this showing. See Marrero-Rivera, 124 F.3d at 347.

Critical to the plea-withdrawal inquiry is whether the original guilty plea was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. See United States v. Aker, 181 F.3d 167, 170 (1st Cir. 1999) (citing Fed. R. Crim. P. 11). Other factors, however, may weigh in the balance. The court may consider, for example, " the plausibility and weight of the reason given for the withdrawal, the timing of the request, whether the defendant is now colorably asserting legal innocence, and whether the original plea was pursuant to a plea agreement." Id. If these factors, taken together, tilt in favor of allowing withdrawal, the court must then weigh the prejudice that the government would suffer if the plea were to be vacated. See Gates, 709 F.3d at 69; United States v. Doyle, 981 F.2d 591, 594 (1st Cir. 1992).

In the case at hand, the district court expressly acknowledged that the " fair and just reason" standard controlled its inquiry. Caramadre, 957 F.Supp.2d at 166. It proceeded to identify and evaluate all of the relevant factors. See id. at 166, 181-86. Caramadre nonetheless persists in his claim of error, hanging his hopes on two sentences in the district court's lengthy rescript: " As the above discussion makes pellucid, Caramadre entered into a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary plea, and thus no just reason exists for allowing him to withdraw it. Still, for completeness sake, the Court will briefly address the additional factors enumerated by the First Circuit." Id. at 181. Caramadre urges that these sentences demonstrate that the court conflated the " generous" fair and just reason for permitting withdrawal of a guilty plea with the " stricter" standard for holding a plea invalid.

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This is nonsense on steroids. Rule 11 considerations are a paramount concern in a plea-withdrawal inquiry. See United States v. Santiago Miranda, 654 F.3d 130, 136 (1st Cir. 2011); United States v. Richardson, 225 F.3d 46, 51 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Cotal-Crespo, 47 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1995)). Thus, the court below appropriately focused, at the outset of its inquiry, on whether Caramadre's plea was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.

Here, moreover, Caramadre's plea-withdrawal motion -- which alleged that his plea had been involuntary and that he was not competent to have tendered it -- invited this very focus. Caramadre cannot now fault the district court for accepting this invitation and beginning its analysis with the very factors that he himself had stressed.

In any event, the district court did not simply examine Rule 11 considerations and stop there. Although the court stated that it would address the other factors " briefly," Caramadre, 957 F.Supp.2d at 181, this was nothing more than self-deprecating litotes. What followed was a thorough analysis of the other factors. See id. at 181-86.

The short of it is that Caramadre's contention that the district court premised its decision entirely on the validity of his plea (and, thus, used an erroneous legal standard) turns a blind eye to a generous portion of the district court's reasoning. Reading the district court's rescript as a whole, Caramadre's claim is fanciful. We summarily reject it.[4]

B. Abuse of Discretion.

In the absence of legal error, we review decisions denying plea-withdrawal motions solely for abuse of discretion. See United States v. Merritt, 755 F.3d 6, 9 (1st Cir. 2014). Within this rubric, findings of fact are reviewed for clear error. See Gates, 709 F.3d at 69. The defendant bears the devoir of persuasion. See Merritt, 755 F.3d at 9.

Caramadre's primary argument is that the district court abused its discretion in balancing the factors relevant to whether he should be allowed to withdraw his plea. In his view, the district court did not appreciate that a " perfect storm" of events " overbore his will and induced him to enter a guilty plea" that was involuntary. This argument has several subsets, which we discuss below.

1. The Rule 11 Colloquy.

The most heated among these sub-arguments is Caramadre's claim that the change-of-plea colloquy was too scanty with respect to the district court's inquiry into his medications and history of depression. At the change-of-plea hearing, the district court asked Caramadre if he was being treated for mental illness. He responded that he had been treated for depression " both lately and for the last 20 years." One of Caramadre's lawyers then proffered a list of Caramadre's ...


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