The Court finds nothing deficient about Defendant's guilty plea.
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.
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
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.
Once a district court has accepted a defendant's guilty plea, "the
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.
First, there is no allegation that Defendant did not know, after
practicing for over two decades, how he billed IDPA.*fn2 Second,
Defendant admits he possessed discovery page 1026 at the time he
his plea. As already discussed, a defendant is not entitled to
withdraw his plea merely because he has reevaluated the evidence. See
Silva, 122 F.2d at 415. Defendant argues the Government persuaded
him that discovery page 1026 did not accurately reflect IDPA's policy.
Regardless, Defendant does not allege he was prevented from conducting
his own investigation, prior to entering a guilty plea, to determine
whether IDPA accepted "bundled" billing and whether that would be a
viable defense at trial. He cannot now successfully argue that a new look
at evidence, which was available at the time of his guilty plea, is a "fair
and just reason" to withdraw. Underwood, 174 F.3d at 854 (holding
that a "reevaluation of [defendant's] trial prospects afforded no basis for
withdrawing his validly-entered guilty pleas").
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
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 behalf
of the Illinois Department of Public Aid
by a check which was sent to the
Defendant in Springfield, Illinois
through the United States mail.
The Court: Very well. Mr. Rinaldi, did you listen closely?
Mr. Rinaldi: Yes, I did.
The Court: Did you understand Mr. Hansen's words?
Mr. Rinaldi: Yes, I did.