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U.S. v. RINALDI

February 27, 2003

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
V.
SERGIUS RINALDI, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge

OPINION

Defendant seeks to withdraw his guilty plea based, in part, on his assertion that he suffers from Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

The Court finds nothing deficient about Defendant's guilty plea.

Motion denied.

Dr. Sergius Rinaldi, D.M.D., a dentist specializing in orthodontics, practiced in Central Illinois for almost twenty-five years. On March 5, 2002, at the age of 66, Dr. Rinaldi entered a plea of guilty to the charges of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1341, and obstruction of justice, 18 U.S.C. § 1518.

Now, almost one year later, Dr. Rinaldi seeks to withdraw his plea because he claims he is not actually guilty of the charged offenses.

BACKGROUND

The Indictment charged Defendant with submitting false claims to Medicaid and destroying records to prevent the Government from detecting the scheme. The Medicaid program was established to provide medical assistance to indigent persons. The federal government provides approximately one half of the money for Medicaid while the rest of the cost is provided by the State of Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA) administers Medicaid.

The IDPA established procedures to compensate orthodontists and other medical practitioners for services provided to Medicaid recipients. Dental providers were required to submit invoice forms to a company which administered the Medicaid program for dental services on behalf of IDPA. Prior to March 1, 1999, this entity was "Delta Dental." After March 1, 1999, this entity was "Doral Dental." These companies, or carriers, had a contract with IDPA to administer claims for dental and orthodontic services. Claims for children, who were wards of the State of Illinois or otherwise under the jurisdiction, custody or protection of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), were submitted to IDPA through DCFS.

Defendant claims at the time of his guilty plea he was under the impression that the IDPA only paid for orthodontic procedures on a "fee for service" basis, meaning, IDPA only paid a practitioner when he actually performed a service.*fn1 Under such a system, an orthodontist who knowingly submitted an invoice for a service not actually performed would be committing fraud.

Subsequent to entering the plea, "the Defense" discovered that Defendant submitted invoices using a "bundling fee" system, meaning, Defendant billed a flat rate for applying braces and making monthly adjustments and was entitled to a monthly payment on the "remaining balance" whether a patient actually received a service each month or not. Defendant now claims IDPA issued payment to orthodontists under either a "fee for service" or "bundling fee" system. Therefore, an orthodontist who submitted an invoice for a service not actually performed may not be committing fraud. Nevertheless, Defendant claims he suffers from Adult Attention Deficit Disorder (AADD), which prevented him from forming any criminal intent.

Defendant claims these "discoveries" are significant because if he is correct, he believes he is not guilty of mail fraud or obstruction of justice. However, these are revelations that should have occurred a year ago — before Defendant took a solemn oath and testified he was guilty of the crimes charged.

ANALYSIS

Once a district court has accepted a defendant's guilty plea, "the defendant does not have an unlimited right to withdraw" it. United States v. Milquette, 214 F.3d 859, 861 (7th Cir. 2000). In fact, a defendant can only withdraw it if he can "show a fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal." FED. R. CRIM. P. 11(d)(2)(B). This is a heavy burden and it rests entirely on the defendant. United States v. Underwood, 174 F.3d 850, 852 (7th Cir. 1999); United States v. Ellison, 835 F.2d 687, 693 (7th Cir. 1987). "When a defendant wishes to withdraw his plea after he states at a Rule 11 hearing that it was freely and knowingly given, he `faces an uphill battle in persuading the judge that his purported reason for withdrawing his plea is fair and just.'" United States v. Schilling, 142 F.3d 388, 398 (7th Cir. 1998) quoting United States v. Trussel, 961 F.2d 685, 689 (7th Cir. 1992).

Serious allegations of legal innocence, newly discovered evidence or of a previously unknown or unavailable defense often require a plenary examination. United States v. Gomez-Orozco, 188 F.3d 422, 426 (7th Cir. 1999); United States v. Groll, 992 F.2d 755, 758 (7th Cir. 1993); United States v. Silva, 122 F.3d 412, 415 (7th Cir. 1997). However, courts are reluctant to acquiesce when a defendant moves to withdraw based on facts known at the time he entered the guilty plea. Silva, 122 F.3d at 415.

When deciding to plead guilty, a defendant considers "imponderable questions for which there are no certain answers; judgments may be made that in the light of later events seem improvident, although they were perfectly sensible at the time." Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 757 (1970). "A defendant is not entitled to withdraw his plea merely because he has misapprehended the strength of the government's case or, upon reevaluation of the situation, can conceive of an arguable defense." Silva, 122 F.3d at 415. Allowing a motion on that basis would "degrade the otherwise serious act of pleading guilty into something akin to a move in a game of chess." United States v. Hyde, 520 U.S. 670, 677 (1997).

Here, Defendant asserts that he is not guilty of mail fraud because he used a "bundling fee" procedure, which according to the Dental Policy Clarification explained on discovery page 1026, was a billing method accepted by IDPA. However, the information on which Defendant bases his argument was known at the time he entered his guilty plea.

Defendant's motion flies in the face of the testimony he provided at the change of plea hearing conducted on March 5, 2002. Defendant cannot disassociate himself from that testimony simply because he now believes he can present a defense to the crime.

The whole point of the Rule 11 colloquy is to establish that the plea was knowingly and voluntarily made. See Ellison, 835 F.2d at 693. A "presumption of verity" attaches to statements made by a defendant at a Rule 11 hearing. United States v. Redig, 27 F.3d 277, 280 (7th Cir. 1994). "To deter abuses in the withdrawal of guilty pleas . . . and to protect the integrity of the judicial process, we have held that `rational conduct requires that voluntary responses made by a defendant under oath [when entering a guilty plea] . . . be binding.'" United States v. McFarland, 839 F.2d 1239, 1242 (7th Cir. 1988) quoting Ellison, 835 F.2d at 693. "[W]hen the record indicates that the defendant was aware of the reasons supporting [his] motion to withdraw when [he] entered [his] plea . . . the district court is generally justified in discrediting the proffered reasons for the motion to withdraw and holding the defendant to [his] admissions at the Rule 11 hearing." United States v. Groll, 992 F.2d 755, 758 (7th Cir. 1993).

Assistant United States Attorney Patrick Hansen presented the factual basis for the plea.

AUSA Hansen: Were the case to go to trial, your Honor, the Government would show that during the years 1994 through 2001, Sergius Rinaldi was an orthodontist practicing from offices in Springfield and Edwardsville, Illinois. Among his clients were wards of the State of Illinois under the protection of the or custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, DCFS, as well as those receiving Medicaid assistance from the Illinois Department of Public Aid, IDPA. During this period of time, the Defendant would bill DCFS and Medicaid for services regarding these patients which included monthly adjustments to braces. Among the bills submitted to DCFS and IDPA were bills for services he did not perform including several of these monthly adjustments.
The Government's evidence would also include at least two occasions when Dr. Rinaldi billed for putting braces on children which was not done by Rinaldi.
Specifically as to Count 1 of the indictment, the evidenced [sic] would show on or about September 19, 2000, the Defendant did cause the use of the United States mail by knowingly submitting and causing to be submitted a claim to the Illinois Department of Public Aid for a monthly adjustment alleged to have been provided to a client identified as JB or identified with the initials of JB on August 9, 2000, when, in fact, the client was not in the State of Illinois at the time. The payment for the service as well as others was made on or about September 19, 2000 by Dorel [sic] Dental on ...

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