Last November, it looked as though federal prosecutors had closed their case against a Rhode Island man who used terminally ill people in a plan to collect money from insurance companies. After four days of a trial, attorney Joseph Caramadre pleaded guilty to wire fraud and identity theft.
But late last week, Caramadre filed new court papers maintaining his innocence and asking to withdraw his plea. A judge will decide whether to order a new trial or force Caramadre to go through with the plea agreement, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island declined to comment on the filing.
Caramadre and a former employee, Raymour Radhakrishnan, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiring to steal the identities of dying people they had recruited to apply for insurance products and bonds that carried survivorship rights. Under the terms of these products, Caramadre, his family members and his investors could receive their money back and potentially much more from the policies. ProPublica wrote about Caramadre last August in "Death Takes a Policy."
Caramadre now says that he was under duress when he agreed to the plea deal. In filings with the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island, Caramadre accuses his attorneys of "deficient" representation, conflicts of interests, and prodding him to take the plea. In an affidavit, Caramadre says that despite his requests, his lawyers refused to hire an investigator to interview the government's witnesses or to cross-examine them at trial. He also alleges that there was a conflict because one of his attorneys kept a large retainer even though the trial was shorter than expected.
Messages left for Caramadre's lawyers were not returned in time for publication.
Caramadre also says that on the second day of the trial his wife had an emotional breakdown. The new filings include affidavits and letters from doctors attesting to his wife's condition, which had "a profound effect on his own fragile mental state," according to Caramadre's court filing. Caramadre takes a variety of medications for depression and has received disability insurance income from three carriers for his condition since July 2011, according to an affidavit he filed with the court.
He described in his affidavit being reluctant to take the plea deal and quickly regretting his decision. "Throughout the more than three and a half years before I pled guilty, I repeatedly professed my innocence, and remain innocent to this day," the affidavit says.
The 53-year-old Caramadre, who has both legal and accounting degrees, is a self-described master at exploiting contractual loopholes. Prior to the criminal prosecution, he built a prosperous business in estate planning and gave millions to local charities. Caramadre paid the terminally ill to participate in his scheme, but some later claimed that they were not fully aware of how their personal information was being used. In a few instances, participants or their family members asserted signatures had been forged.
Radhakrishnan, 29, has not requested a change in his plea. In the event of a new trial, this could prove a problem for the prosecution. Radhakrishnan, acting on Caramadre's behalf, was the person with direct contact with the terminally ill. Last year, Caramadre's lawyers tried and failed to persuade the judge to order separate trials for the men.
The judge had scheduled a sentencing hearing for Caramadre and Radhakrishnan for March 29, which may become a hearing on this new motion as well.