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United States v. Rydze

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

October 1, 2014




Defendants Richard A. Rydze and James Hatzimbes are charged in a 185-count Indictment[1] alleging various violations of the Controlled Substances Act relating to anabolic steroids and human growth hormone; fraud; healthcare fraud; and obstruction of justice.[2]

Richard Rydze has filed a Motion to Suppress Statement Taken without Miranda Warnings (ECF No. 91) and a Motion to Suppress Proceeds of Search (ECF No. 92), in which Defendant James Hatzimbes has joined. In this Opinion we address the motion to suppress statements. A hearing on the motion was held on April 23, 2014. At the hearing testimony was presented from FBI Special Agent Dominic Trippodo, FBI Special Agent Julie Halferty, James Mitchell (a patient who was present at the time Agents executed a search warrant at Dr. Rydze's place of business), and Richard Rydze, M.D. For the reasons that follow we will deny Defendants' motion.

I. Background

On March 21, 2011, federal agents served a search warrant on Dr. Rydze at his medical practice, Optimal Health Center, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The operation began at 9 a.m. and was executed by Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, accompanied by a 4-person SWAT team charged with securing the premises. When the search warrant was executed agents entered the office with firearms drawn, but once the premises were secured the firearms were bolstered. The agents who participated in the interview with Dr. Rydze were dressed in typical business attire.

At the time the search warrant was executed there were six employees and five patients present. The agents entered the premises, identified themselves, and informed the occupants that they were there to execute a search warrant. No one was placed under arrest.

Dr. Rydze's person was searched for safety reasons. Dr. Rydze recalled that he thought a weapon was drawn on him while he was being patted down, but he was not sure. He was told that he was not being arrested and that he was free to leave. The agent informed Dr. Rydze that if he chose to stay he would be accompanied by, or escorted by, an agent while he remained. Conversely he was informed that if he left the premises he would not be permitted back into the premises until the search was completed. The agents asked Dr. Rydze if he would like to talk, and Dr. Rydze agreed. Dr. Rydze testified that that his recollection was that he was told he was free to leave only at the conclusion of the interview.

The interview was conducted by Special Agent Jodene Weber, [3] assisted by Special Agent Dominic Trippodo and Special Agent Julie Halferty. The interview occurred in Dr. Rydze's conference room, which was also a break room for the employees. The room was located at the end of the office hallway, adjacent to Dr. Rydze's personal office. The room had two entrances, one of which opened into Dr. Rydze's office and the other into the hallway. Dr. Rydze's office also had two doors, one that opened into the hallway as well as the one adjoining the conference room. Testimony revealed that the conference room had a conference table, several chairs, a refrigerator, and a window.

Dr. Rydze sat on a chair at the conference table closest to the door that opened into his office and across from the entrance to the hallway. Agents Trippodo and Halferty sat at the conference table on the side opposite the entrance to Dr. Rydze's office. Agent Webber sat across the conference table from Dr. Rydze, with her back to the entrance into the hallway. The doors to the room were closed but not locked. During the interview various agents conducting the search of the premises would enter and exit the conference room to speak with Agent Webber.

Dr. Rydze was not restrained during the interview, he was offered water, pizza, and restroom breaks. He chose not to take the agents up on the offers for food and water, and he did not request to use the restroom during the interview. The interview lasted approximately three hours, from about 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Testimony indicated that generally the interview was "conversational" with Dr. Rydze voluntarily answering Agent Webber's questions. As the interview continued there were times when it turned confrontational and Agent Webber raised her voice when it appeared to her that Dr. Rydze was not being truthful. None of the agents threatened Dr. Rydze, and it appeared to the agents that Dr. Rydze wanted to keep talking. Dr. Rydze was not read Miranda warnings. At the end of the interview Dr. Rydze requested to use the restroom and he was escorted to the restroom by Agent Trippodo. The agents again informed Dr. Rydze that he was free to leave. He remained on the premises for approximately 15 to 20 minutes after the interview ended and then departed. The search was completed at approximately 5:00 p.m.

As a result of the questioning, a 16-page interview report was produced revealing that Dr. Rydze made incriminating statements during the interview. Dr. Rydze claims that by virtue of the circumstances in which he was questioned he was subject to a "custodial interrogation" and therefore should have been read his Miranda rights. The government counters that because Dr. Rydze was not subject to a custodial interrogation and was not "in custody" no Miranda warnings were required.

II. Applicable Law

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that all criminal defendants have a privilege against self-incrimination. U.S. Const. Amend. V. Further, pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona. 384 U.S. 438 (1966), "the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogations of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." United States v. Jackson, 2009 WL 3008993, *4 (W.D.Pa. 2009) (quoting Miranda. 384 U.S. at 444).

According to the Third Circuit, "[a] person is in custody when he either is arrested formally or his freedom of movement is restricted to 'the degree associated with a formal arrest." United States v. Willaman. 437 F.3d 354, 359 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Leese, 176 F.3d 740, 743 (3d Cir. 1999) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). Further, for a person to be in custody, while not formally arrested, "something must be said or done by the authorities, either in their manner of approach or in the tone or extent of their questioning, which indicates that they would not have heeded a request to depart or to allow the suspect to do so." Id. (quoting Steigler v. Anderson. 496 F.2d 793, 799 (3d Cir. 1974)) which quotes United States v. Hall. 421 F.2d 540, 545 (2d Cir. 1969)). ...

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