PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP)—A Rhode Island estate planner and one of his employees were indicted Nov. 17 on allegations they orchestrated a $2-million swindle of insurance companies and brokerage houses by stealing the identities of terminally ill and elderly people they met by advertising offers for a $2,000 charitable gift in a Catholic newspaper.
Federal prosecutors say the patients, their families and caregivers targeted for identity theft never knew attorney Joseph A. Caramadre, 49, and his staffer, Raymour Radhakrishnan, 27, stood to cash in on the deaths of their loved ones. They face a 66-count indictment charging them with conspiracy, multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, identity theft, aggravated identity theft and money laundering, said Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha. Caramadre is also accused of witness tampering.
Caramadre is the president and CEO of Estate Planning Resources in Cranston. Prosecutors allege he launched the scheme in 1995 and roped in Radhakrishnan when he was hired in 2007.
Caramadre’s spokesman, Gregg Perry, said Caramadre “looks forward to easily proving his innocence.” A lawyer for Radhakrishnan did not immediately return a message on Nov. 17.
The indictment says the men regularly advertised an offer promising a $2,000 charitable gift to people with terminal illness in the newspaper Rhode Island Catholic. Radhakrishnan met with people who responded to the ad and provided them with money from Caramadre, prosecutors said.
During these meetings, Radhakrishnan assessed whether he was meeting with someone who was close to death. If that was the case, authorities say, Radhakrishnan claimed Caramadre had more money waiting for them.
Radhakrishnan and Caramadre forged the signatures of the patients or lied to them about why their signatures were needed to get them to sign documents that opened variable annuities and brokerage accounts that purchased “death put” bonds in the victims’ name, prosecutors said. A death put allows the beneficiary of a deceased person’s estate to sell the bond back to the issuer if the beneficiary dies or becomes legally incapacitated.
Authorities allege Caramadre and others turned a profit by exercising the death benefits. More than 200 variable annuities and more than 75 brokerage accounts were purchased this way, authorities said.
In some cases, victims were told signatures were required to document Caramadre’s charitable gift. Others were promised an account would be opened to benefit the survivors of the terminally ill person or other families grappling with terminal disease, prosecutors said.
Johnston resident Daniel Bulpitt, 52, said his family responded to the ad while his wife was dying of cancer and received a payment of $5,000.
“It was supposed to be from the Diocese of Providence. We had no idea that there was an insurance scam going on,” said Bulpitt, whose wife, Sandra, died at age 48, in 2009.
Bulpitt said he testified in front of the grand jury and assisted with the investigation.
“Karma is karma,” he said. “They deserve whatever happens.”
Caramadre and Radhakrishnan are also accused of lying to insurance companies, brokerage houses and other corporations they did business with by claiming the patients were clients of Caramadre’s law practice. Prosecutors claim the men also concealed the compensation patients received for opening annuities. The men lied about the victims’ financial assets and investment experience and claimed the investment proceeds would go to the terminally ill, the indictment says.
Authorities also claim the financial institutions were told Caramadre had no ownership interest in the investments and that Caramadre paid for burial expenses at the request of the Catholic Church. That was false, authorities said.
Authorities say Caramadre told his investors he discovered a “loophole” that allowed patients to open variable annuities and co-own joint brokerage accounts used to purchase death put bonds. They accuse him of entering profit-sharing agreements with some outside investors but say Caramadre still received a significant percentage of the profits.
Perry, the Caramadre spokesman, said prosecutors and federal agents have spread “reckless and uninformed tales.”
“It is Mr. Caramadre’s opinion, that this case was crafted and conceived by overzealous prosecutors and federal agents who were (led) astray by an insurance industry upset it got beat at its own game with products they designed and offered to the investing public,” Perry said in a statement.
“Despite the government’s theory, anyone who knows Mr. Caramadre understands he did not and could not take advantage of anyone, let alone terminally ill individuals.”
Perry said Caramadre plans to clear his name quickly and return to philanthropic activities that Perry said have aided thousands of people over the years.
Federal court records show the men and Caramadre’s company have also been named in lawsuits brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Transamerica Life Insurance Company, and Western Reserve Life Assurance Co. of Ohio.
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