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U.S. v. CORINES

United States District Court, S.D. New York


April 19, 2004.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, -against- PETER CORINES, Defendant

The opinion of the court was delivered by: GEORGE DANIELS, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

During his jury trial for mail fraud, defendant pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and making false statements in connection with health care matters, and one count of mail fraud. Defendant now moves to withdraw his guilty plea. Defendant's motion is denied.

I. Background

  On January 8, 2002, defendant Peter Corines ("defendant" or "Corines") was charged, in a seven count indictment, with one count of conspiracy, one count of health care fraud, one count of making false statements in connection with health care matters, and four counts of mail fraud. A superceding Indictment, filed by the government on September 30, 2003, included four additional counts of mail fraud. Defendant pled not guilty to the superceding indictment on November 3, 2003.

  A trial date was set for December l, 2003. Prior to trial, the Court, upon motion by the defendant, severed the counts of conspiracy, health care fraud and making false statements in connection with health care matters from the mail fraud counts. The December trial, therefore, was limited to the eight mail fraud charges. On December l, 2003, the Court conducted jury selection. Opening statements were given by the attorneys. The government began presenting it's evidence on it's case in chief. On the second day of trial, December 2, 2003, defense counsel interrupted the trial and informed the Court that the defendant wished to withdraw his plea of not guilty and plead guilty pursuant to a written plea agreement with the government. The defendant then withdrew his plea of not guilty and pleaded guilty to Counts One (conspiracy) and Six (mail fraud) of the superceding indictment pursuant to a written agreement with the government which the defendant personally executed in open court. On or about February 12, 2004, this Court received a letter from new counsel indicating that he had been retained to represent the defendant. On or about February 24, 2004, this Court received a second letter from new counsel requesting that defendant's March 3, 2004 sentencing date be adjourned for at least 30 days. On or about March 29, 2004, this Court received, with an accompanying letter by defense counsel, a courtesy copy of defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

  II. Analysis

  Under Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(d)(2), a district court may permit a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing if the defendant "can show a fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal." The decision to allow a guilty plea to be withdrawn is committed to the discretion of the district judge. United States v. Torres, 129 F.3d 710, 715 (2d Cir. 1997). Furthermore, it is well settled that a defendant has no "absolute right to withdraw [his] plea of guilty." United States v. Karro, 257 F.3d 112, 117 (2d Cir. 2001). "Society has a strong interest in the finality of guilty pleas, and allowing withdrawal of pleas not only undermines confidence in the integrity of our judicial procedures, but also increase the volume of judicial work, and delays and impairs the orderly administration of justice." United States v. Maher, 108 F.3d 1513, 1529 (2d Cir. 1997) (citations and quotations omitted). This societal interest is particularly significant when an ongoing trial is terminated by the defendant's expressed desire to abruptly plead guilty.

  In determining whether a defendant has demonstrated a "fair and just reason" for withdrawing his plea, "the district court should examine the amount of time elapsed between the plea and the subsequent motion to withdraw, and whether the defendant's motion to withdraw his plea asserted his innocence, as well as giving due regard to any prejudice the government might suffer as a result." Karro, 257 F.3d at 117 (citations and internal quotations omitted). In order to obtain withdrawal of a guilty plea, the defendant must "raise a significant question about the voluntariness of the original plea." Torres, 129 F.3d at 715. A defendant's admissions during a plea proceeding, and any findings made by the court in accepting the plea, "constitute a formidable barrier" to challenging the validity of the plea. Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 (1977). A motion to withdraw a guilty plea may be denied without a hearing where the defendant's allegations "merely contradict the record," are "inherently incredible" or are "simply conclusory." United States v. Williams. 23 F.3d 629, 635 (2d Cir. 1994).

  Furthermore, in reviewing a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, the court "must draw all permissible inferences in favor of the government and against the defendant." Maher, 108 F.3d at 1530. "A defendant's bald statements that simply contradict what he said at his plea allocution are not sufficient grounds to withdraw the guilty plea." Torres, 129 F.3d at 715. See also United States v. Hernandez, 242 F.3d 110, 112-113 (2d Cir. 2001)(finding that the district court properly denied a motion to withdraw a guilty plea because allegations that his attorney failed to advise the defendant of consequences of plea contradicted sworn representations made during the plea proceedings that the defendant understood the consequences of his plea and reviewed the plea agreement with his attorney). Defendant claims that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because during his allocution there was no "strict adherence" by the Court to the requirements of Fed.R.Crim.P. 11. First, defendant argues that the Court did not fully inform him of the nature of the charges to which he was pleading guilty. Second, although the Court informed him that his plea agreement contained a provision waiving his right to appeal, he argues that he was not specifically informed by the Court of the waiver of his right to collaterally attack his sentenced

  A. Nature of the Charges

  Defendant argues that the Court's questioning of the defendant regarding his understanding of the nature of the charges against him were insufficient. "First, the Court merely informed Corines what the charges were; it did not undertake in any way to inform him of the nature of those charges." Defendant's Brief at 5. Defendant argues, therefore, that "upon this record, it could not be determined that Corines truly understood the nature of the charges to which he was pleading guilty." Id at 6. Defendant further asserts that no "real notice of the true nature of the charge" was given to him as "the relevant counts of the indictment were not read to him nor were they even summarized for him." Id. at 8. Instead, defendant asserts that he was "merely informed as to how the charges that he was pleading guilty to were labeled." Id

  Defendant's argument is simply without merit. During the defendant's plea allocution, the Court clearly inquired as to the defendant's understanding of the nature of the charges against him.

 

Court: Have you received a copy of the indictment?
Defendant: Yes sir.
Court: And have your read it?
Defendant: Yes sir. Court: And have you discussed all the charges in this indictment with your attorneys? Defendant: Yes sir.
Court: And do you understand that Count 1 of this indictment charges a conspiracy to commit Healthcare fraud and to make false statements relating to Healthcare matters in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371? Do you understand the nature of that charge?
Defendant: Yes.
Court: Do you understand that Count 6 charges you with mail fraud [in] violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341? Do you understand the nature of that charge?
Defendant: Yes.
Court: Do you understand that, as I have indicated, the government would have to prove each and every part or element of each one of those offenses against you, that is charged against you beyond a reasonable doubt at trial? Defendant: Yes sir.
Transcript 84-85. The defendant testified that he read the indictment and discussed the nature of these charges with his attorney. This alone is sufficient to ensure that he was aware of the nature of the charges. See United States v. Juncal, 245 F.3d 166, 171 (2d Cir. 2001)(holding that defendant was adequately advised of the nature of the conspiracy and wire fraud charges against him where the "indictment was exceptionally detailed and clearly explained the charges and their elements" and the defendant "testified at his allocution that he had reviewed the indictment and the plea agreement with his attorney, that his attorney had explained those documents to him, and that he understood those document").

  Furthermore, the Court questioned the defendant as to his participation in the offenses charged.

 

Court: Mr. Corines, why don't we start with Count 1. Why don't you tell me what you did in Count 1, the crime charged in Count 1, that makes you guilty of that charge. Defendant: Count 1, conspiracy. I agreed with others to submit false claims for healthcare services. In connection with that agreement, I inflated claims for anesthesia services by increasing the number of hours above the number I actually worked.
Defendant then acknowledged that some of the services were provided in Manhattan, that some of the insurers received the claim forms in the Southern District of New York, and that the billing address was a Manhattan address. Transcript 90-91. With regards to Count 6, the Court inquired as follows:
Court: And what did you do in connection with Count 6 that makes you guilty of the mail fraud count?
Defendant: In connection with claims for disability insurance I filed, I falsely claimed that I was not working during the specified time period when I was, in fact, working as a physician surgeon.
Court: When you did these acts, did you know that what you were doing was wrong and illegal?
Defendant: l — yes, I knew that my conduct was unlawful.
Transcript 89-90. The defendant then acknowledged that, as a result of his misrepresentation, U.S. Life Insurance Company mailed a $27,000 disability check to his apartment in Manhattan. Transcript 90-91. The defendant's allocution established each element of both the conspiracy charge and the mail fraud charge and supports a finding that the defendant clearly understood the nature of the charges.*fn1

  B. Waiver of Right to Collaterally Attack the Sentence

  Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(b)(1)(N) requires that "[b]efore accepting a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the court must address the defendant personally in open court and inform the defendant of, and determine that the defendant understands . . . the terms of any provision in a plea agreement waiving the right to appeal or to collaterally attack the sentence." The commentary to Rule 11 notes that the Advisory Committee drafted the rule, in large part, to ensure that appellate waivers are knowing and voluntary. See Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(b)(1)(N), advisory committee notes to 1999 amendments ("Given the increased use of [waiver] provisions, the Committee believed it was important to insure that, the waiver was voluntarily and knowingly made by the defendant."); see also United States v. Vonn, 535 U.S. 55, 122 S.Ct. 1043, 1049 n. 6, 152 L.Ed.2d 90 (2002) ("[T]he Advisory Committee Notes provide a reliable source of insight into the meaning of a rule, especially when, the rule was enacted precisely as the Advisory Committee proposed.").

  Defendant seeks to withdraw his guilty plea on the ground that, during the plea allocution, the Court advised him that he had waived his right to appeal, but did not advise him that he had waived his right to collaterally attack his sentence. Citing Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(b)(1)(N), defendant argues that this Court had the obligation to make sure that defendant understood that he was giving up this additional right of collateral attack. As the Court did not specifically inquire as to the right to collaterally attack his sentence, defendant argues that his guilty plea should be vacated and his not guilty plea restored.

 

The Court, however, did inquire into the defendant's understanding of the plea agreement and specifically of the waiver of the defendant's right to appeal.
Court: You understand that also pursuant to this plea agreement, that you are giving up or waiving your right to appeal if I sentence you within the guideline range as set forth in the plea agreement? Defendant: Yes.
Furthermore, during the Court's Rule 11 colloquy, the defendant specifically stated, on the record, that he had signed the agreement, had read the agreement before signing it, had discussed it with his attorneys before signing it and that he fully understood the agreement before he signed it. Transcript at 88. The Court further inquired as to the completeness of the plea agreement and the defendant's understanding of the agreement.

 

Court: Does this letter agreement constitute your complete and total understanding of the entire agreement entered into and signed by the government, your attorney and you? Defendant: Yes.
Court: Is everything you understand about your plea and sentence contained iii this agreement?
Defendant: I believe so.
Court: Has anything been left out, to your knowledge?
Defendant: No. No, sir.
Defendant's argument, therefore, that "nothing Corines said in the entire proceeding shows that he was even aware of the provision, much less understood its import and accepted it," is without merit and unsupported by the factual record. Defendant's Brief at 10. Indeed, the Court's questioning sufficiently shows that the defendant entered into his plea agreement knowingly and voluntarily. See Garcia-Santos v. United States, 273 F.3d 506, 508 (2d Cir. 2001)(finding no error in the District Court's determination that the defendant's plea agreement was entered into knowingly and voluntarily, and with awareness of his waiver of appeal and collateral attack in light of the fact that, inter alia, the defendant signed the plea agreement, he stated he had read and understood the plea agreement, and he did not claim that he had not understood the waiver contained in his plea agreement). Defendant, furthermore, does not even argue that he was unaware of the waiver provision in his agreement at the time he entered his guilty plea. Rather, his argument relies solely on his allegation that the Court did not strictly adhere to Fed.R.Crim.P. 11 by not specifically inquiring into his understanding of his waiver of his right to collaterally attack his sentence. Defendant clearly understood that he was waiving any right to appeal by the provisions referred to in his plea agreement.

  III. Conclusion

  Defendant's arguments in support of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea do not provide a "fair and just reason" to grant his motion. His allegations that he was not fully informed of the nature of the charges and his waiver of his right to appeal merely attempt to contradict a clear record to the contrary. Furthermore, any assertion by the defendant that he was not fully aware of the nature of the charges against him and the full panoply of rights that he was waiving by pleading guilty would be inherently incredible. See United States v. Williams, 23 F.3d 629, 635 (2d Cir. 1994)(finding that a motion to withdraw a guilty plea may be denied without a hearing where the defendant's allegations "merely contradict the record," are "inherently incredible" or are "simply conclusory"). Defendant's guilty plea was clearly entered knowingly and voluntarily with a foil understanding of the consequences of that plea. Defendant has offered no reason to allow a withdrawal of his guilty plea. Defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea is therefore denied.

  SO ORDERED.


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