PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A federal judge refused Monday to vacate the guilty plea of an estate-planning lawyer accused of using the identities of terminally ill patients to illegally obtain millions of dollars, calling his motion to withdraw his plea bizarre and without merit and ordering him into custody immediately.

U.S. District Judge William Smith said he also believed attorney Joseph Caramadre had perjured himself when he testified in support of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea and said he believed it was an elaborate escape hatch contrived in part so that he could save face.

"For some reason, this defendant had the need to blame other people for the situation that he has found himself in," Smith said from the bench. "I think that he wants to claim to his family, his friends, his church that he is innocent."

Caramadre and his former employee, Raymour Radhakrishnan, were four days into trial in November 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.

A few months later, Caramadre had new lawyers and was trying to withdraw his plea. He argued, among other things, that his previous lawyers, Michael Lepizzera and Anthony Traini, put on an inadequate defense and that he was suffering from depression and unable to competently make a decision to plead guilty.

After hearing several days of testimony from people including Caramadre, as well as Lepizzera and Traini, who were called to testify by prosecutors, Smith said there was no evidence to support Caramadre's claims that he was not competent to agree to a plea deal. He also said it was "absolute fantasy" that Lepizzera put on an inadequate defense, and excoriated one of Caramadre's new lawyers, Robert Watt, for attacking him and Traini.

"Your argument ... was one of the most bizarre arguments and one of the most vicious hatchet jobs I've ever heard," Smith said.

Caramadre had claimed that on the day he pleaded guilty and admitted to the charges that he in fact perjured himself, an argument Smith did not buy.

"It's amazing to watch a defendant perjure himself by saying he committed perjury the first time," Smith said.

The judge said Caramadre did not want a joint trial with Radhakrishnan, and said he believed Caramadre may have thought he could get out of it by pleading guilty, then later withdrawing his plea and so he could go to trial as the sole defendant. Smith said that demonstrated an "incredibly cynical and manipulative attitude about the judicial process."

Sentencing was set for July 9. Smith said he is bound to abide by a plea deal that sets the upper limit for sentencing at 10 years. He said he does not know what the sentence will be, but that he will take into account Caramadre's perjury and manipulation of the judicial process.

Smith said the government asked the judge to order Caramadre into custody immediately, saying he was a flight risk. Smith agreed, calling it an unusual case.

 

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