RI estate lawyer says he's innocent in death fraud; asking to change guilty plea to not guilty

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – An estate planning lawyer who pleaded guilty mid-trial to using the identities of terminally ill people to illegally obtain tens of millions of dollars is trying to persuade a federal judge to let him change his plea back to not guilty. Joseph Caramadre appeared before U.S. District Judge William Smith on Monday in the continuation of a dayslong hearing on whether he will be allowed to vacate the guilty plea he entered in November.

“I’m 100 per cent innocent of all the charges, and I feel I’m entitled to my day in court,” Caramadre said.

Caramadre and his former employee, Raymour Radhakrishnan, were four days into trial on 66 counts including conspiracy, identity theft, aggravated identity theft and money laundering when they agreed to plead guilty to one count each of wire fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors say Caramadre and Radhakrishnan took out variable annuities and so-called “death-put” bonds that would pay out when a person died. Authorities say they lied to terminally ill people to get personal information that was used to purchase bonds and annuities in their names without consent.

Caramadre argues, among other things, that his lawyers put on an inadequate defence and that he was suffering from depression at the time and unable to competently make such a decision.

In testimony Monday, Caramadre’s former lawyer, Michael Lepizzera, testified when questioned by a prosecutor that he never pressured Caramadre to plead guilty. He said he believed Caramadre had made misrepresentations and lies that would mean he was guilty of some of the charges he faced, including the wire fraud and conspiracy counts he admitted in court.

Lepizzera defended his handling of the case, including his decision not to give an opening statement at the beginning of the trial, which had been expected to last three to four months. He said he made the decision because he didn’t know whether Caramadre would testify.

He said that Caramadre was depressed when he agreed to plead guilty.

“He was down. This was the end of the road. The case was coming to an end. It didn’t end the way he wanted it,” Lepizzera said.

But he added that Caramadre understood everything he was pleading to and knew what he was doing. He pointed out that Caramadre was at that time in the middle of a trial and wondered aloud why he would be considered competent to stand trial but not competent to enter a plea.

The prosecutor showed Lepizzera an email exchange he had with his co-counsel after Caramadre told him he was considering asking the judge to vacate his guilty plea. In the email, Lepizzera said he believed Caramadre was on a “suicide mission” and said he was starting to think the defence team, government and the court were being played by Caramadre.

“He wants a do-over” because he didn’t like how things were going for him in court, Lepizzera wrote in the email.

Lepizzera was scheduled to continue testimony Tuesday.