Sealed with a Kiss 

A stripper, a podiatrist and a lawyer are entangled in Maryland Heights. Ah, the many moods of love.

The stripper noticed the podiatrist at parties. He was a bodybuilder with a big ego, and soon enough a mutual friend hooked them up. On their first date, they went to the Have a Nice Day Café at Union Station. They drank and danced until closing, then continued their evening at a private party, where white lines were laid on a table. The romance had begun.

Little did they know what the affair would produce. A month later, they'd be living together. Within six months, she'd sleep with his best friend. The podiatrist would be arrested for beating her until her ribs cracked and one of her breast implants popped. She'd turn around and finger him to the cops for possessing codeine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and magic mushrooms. She'd sue him. He'd wear a wire to tape conversations, resulting in the arrest of her lawyer. Then the two would reconcile.

Ain't love grand?

Rachel Krippner called the Maryland Heights police around 6 p.m. on June 4 and told them that Ron Freilich, a podiatrist, had assaulted her at his home. The police carted the pair, bruised and ruffled, to the station and questioned them; they then charged Freilich, 42, with domestic assault. Earlier that day, the fuse had been lit: Freilich's best friend called him to confess his most recent sexual conquest: Rachel Krippner. After some coercion, she says, she admitted it to Freilich, "hoping it would end the argument." It did not. They went at it, slapping and pushing each other around the house. He had nearly 100 pounds on her, and she caught the worst of it.

According to the restraining order Krippner filed two days later, Freilich "threw me into the side of the bed frame, he tried to rub my face in broken glass ... he slapped me two times in the face, punched me in my sternum and broke my rib. [He] told me I couldn't leave his house and locked and blocked doors, pulled me by my hair back in to the house."

At the Maryland Heights police station that night, she told the police where Freilich kept his party drugs. "She wasn't in a good mood," says Det. Sgt. Joe Delia, 38. Krippner, 23, had quit her job as a stripper at the Diamond Cabaret, an East Side club, and, according to what Freilich told police, was spending her days lying around his place, doing mostly nothing. Krippner countered that Freilich was "a daily user of cocaine."

Because of Krippner's allegation, Delia says, police requested and received Freilich's consent to a search of his home on Bennington Place. Krippner's statement proved true; police found a cornucopia of recreational drugs. Freilich claimed that someone left the drugs behind during a party he'd held a month earlier. Still, he was charged with four felonies of drug possession and a Class A misdemeanor for the assault.

The next day, at St. Anthony's Medical Center, Krippner was found to have a broken rib and, she claims, a ruptured breast implant. Her breasts were her charms, a part of her livelihood, and any damage would have to be corrected. She hired Chris Hoffman to represent her. Only one year out of St. Louis University's law school, Hoffman, 32, had already made a name for himself representing East Side dancers. Hoffman contacted Freilich's attorney, Gary Siegel, and soon they entered into settlement negotiations.

The lawyers drafted an initial proposal: In exchange for a payment to compensate Krippner for her injuries, she would not press assault charges. No settlement on that charge, however, could prevent the state from prosecuting Freilich on the drug charges. But on June 25, Freilich made a play: He called Sgt. Delia and claimed he was being blackmailed by his girlfriend and her attorney, Hoffman.

According to Freilich, Hoffman had contacted his attorney, Siegel, and offered to arrange a settlement in exchange for Krippner's silence on all charges, including those involving the drugs. When Freilich said he was to meet with the attorneys at Siegel's office the next day, Delia suggested he secretly record the conversation to verify his story. Freilich did just that, and he brought the tape back to Delia: For a $55,000 settlement, Krippner would drop prosecution of the assault case and refuse to testify against Freilich in any tribunal -- criminal, civil or medical board.

At this point, Freilich's attorney, Siegel, backed out of the case. "Ron essentially had become his own investigator," says the former prosecutor. "Besides, he was cooperating directly with the police at that point, and he no longer needed me. And, frankly, I wasn't interested in bringing down someone from my profession."

Just after the meeting Freilich taped, Krippner called Delia. "You guys are not going to be very happy with me," she said, after which she told him she was dropping the assault charge against Freilich and that she needed to come pick up a "no prosecution" form right away.

Delia, who had smelled enough of a rat to tape the conversation, asked, "How much is he getting you?"

"Enough -- more than enough," replied Krippner.

Meanwhile, Hoffman began dealing directly with Freilich. Did he want the deal or not? Freilich only pretended to take the offer. Instead, he went back to Delia. On June 28, Freilich, outfitted with a wire, met with Hoffman in the parking lot of a Denny's restaurant on Dorsett Road at I-270. In his hand was a dummy cashier's check for $55,000. Delia and other police officers hid and listened in on the conversation. Hoffman walked to Freilich's car and got in.

It was supposed to be a quick exchange of money for the settlement-and-release form, but Freilich engaged Hoffman in conversation, getting him to say that although he couldn't actually put language in the agreement specifying that Krippner would plead the Fifth -- "The judge would say, 'Fuck no, this is bought and sold,'" admitted Hoffman on tape -- Hoffman would guarantee that Krippner "doesn't testify" and "takes the Fifth," in addition to other incriminating language.

They talked guy-talk: Hoffman made disparaging remarks about Krippner. Freilich asked Hoffman to please have her call him -- he still wanted to see her.

"This is kind of like blackmail, isn't it?" Freilich coyly suggested a bit later.

"I don't know if it is blackmail," responded Hoffman, "but if you want to do it, there's the deal." Finally they part, and with the "money" in Hoffman's mitts and his words caught on tape, the police swooped down and arrested Chris Hoffman.

Krippner was initially listed as a suspect, then dropped, in the charges that Hoffman now faces: five misdemeanor counts of attempting to conceal an offense. The allegation: In exchange for payment of money, Hoffman would conceal a witness. In essence, he would have prevented Krippner from testifying or cooperating in a criminal case.

What is unclear is why Freilich agreed to help bust Hoffman. "The police can't lower the charges," says Delia. "That's the prosecutor's call. Our job is to make the prosecutor's office aware of the facts of the case and the level of cooperation [by the defendant]." In the end, the charges were neither dismissed nor diminished. Freilich was indicted as originally charged.

Paul D'Agrosa, Hoffman's attorney, says Hoffman was attempting to settle a legitimate injury claim for his client. "The offer of money to buy her silence came from Freilich," he says, "and when Hoffmann comes back and says, 'No, we can't do that,' the doctor starts feeling that this thing is slipping away. He's concerned about what she might say to the cops or the Board of Healing Arts about his drug use and that he beats up women. He fires his lawyer and starts dealing with Krippner and Hoffman on his own. Then he goes to Delia and tells him that he's being blackmailed. He fails to tell Delia that he had already offered Krippner money if she will lie about his knowledge of the drugs and the cause of her injuries."

John O'Brien, who teaches ethics at SLU's law school, says the situation with Hoffman, a former student of his, is complicated by the fact that Hoffman's client had a civil claim against Freilich -- and lurking in the background is the 800-pound gorilla, the criminal charges, to which she is potential witness. O'Brien says that it's not clear that Hoffman acted improperly if he is seeking only to gain just compensation for his client's injuries. He further questions whether this "concealing an offense" statute is being properly applied in charging lawyers who are trying in good faith to work out negotiations on behalf of their clients. And if there was skullduggery, he wonders, why is Hoffman being singled out? "Freilich is the one agreeing to pay the sum," O'Brien says. "He is essentially paying to suppress evidence. It seems that Freilich is violating the statute as well."

Scott Rosenblum, Freilich's current attorney, has entered a plea of not guilty for his client in the drug charges. A trial date has not been set, but Rosenblum says he intends to file a motion to dismiss the case: "I intend to explore whether he entered into some sort of arrangement with the police where he should not have been charged. And to the extent that his cooperation led to another arrest, then he should benefit from any bargain that was made with the police before he was charged."

Besides their legal problems, Hoffman and Freilich could face sanctions within their respective professions, which is a shame because friends and acquaintances say both are likable guys who seemed to have exercised bad judgment.

A colleague of Freilich's assesses him as a person whose life is in a rut: "He can't seem to go forward. Here's a guy who's Mensa-certified, brilliant, who couldn't get past his ruin. You could see it coming; everybody could see it. People liked him because he's a nice guy, and all of sudden this happens. Nobody's surprised. He would not take responsibility for himself, and nobody took responsibility for him. It's kind of sad."

O'Brien recalls Hoffman as "a very good student and very bright guy. He often made good comments in class, and I specifically remember that he e-mailed me once with an ethics question. You get the sense that some students are on the ball. Chris always struck me that way."

Back in Maryland Heights, the young woman in gray sweats who answers the door at the ranch-style home of Ron Freilich is courteous enough. No, she says, Ron isn't here. He's at his clinic in Illinois, and he'll be home tomorrow. With her medium build, hazel eyes and shoulder-length brown hair, the woman fits Rachel Krippner's description. And when asked, she says she is indeed Rachel Krippner.

This is a bit surprising, given that Krippner still has a restraining order against Freilich; he is to stay clear of her until June 20, 2002. But here she is staying at his place, it seems. She may look older than her years -- the late-night club scene will do that -- but she does not look abused or scared or imprisoned. She looks comfortable and well-kept.

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