Thursday, August 08, 2013

Three found guilty in LIRR disability fraud case

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Three people have been convicted of disability fraud, enabling hundreds of Long Island Rail Road retirees to garner additional funds through the federal Railroad Retirement Board illegally over several years.

Dr. Peter Lesniewski, former LIRR conductor and union President Joseph Rutigliano, and former retirement board manager Marie Baran were found guilty of conspiracy, fraud, and false statements Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, and face 15 years in prison under sentencing guidelines, prosecutors said.

Defense counsel said the three would appeal the conviction. In response, prosecutors have asked the U.S. District Court judge to increase the severity of bail conditions on the three, according to local media.

A high rate of LIRR disability claims, tapped by numerous employees retiring at age 50, came to light through newspaper investigations. To date 25 former LIRR employees have pleaded guilty to fraud charges.

"Lesniewski, Baran, and Rutigliano served as engines of this," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, adding, "Like the 25 people who previously pleaded guilty, these defendants now have been brought to justice and will pay for their central roles in this brazen scheme." The LIRR also praised the verdict.

Said Railroad Retirement Board Inspector General Martin Dickman, "I hope it's a deterrent, but greed takes over a lot of times."

Experts testifying at the trail noted that 21% of workers at LIRR sister railroad Metro-North claimed disabilities, compared with the LIRR's 79%.

Still pending are charges against other doctors, retirees, and "facilitators." About 45 retirees have voluntarily surrendered their disabilities payments and received immunity under an amnesty program.