Eleven people were charged yesterday in what the NY Times calls an “enormous” fraud scheme in which it became normal for Long Island Railroad workers to claim disability, often regardless of, ya know, actual disabilities, and qualify for lucrative benefits.
The fraudelent payouts could end up costing a federal agency (in other words, you, me, and your Aunt Tillie) a billion dollars. Billion with a B.
Gregory Noone is flanked by FBI agents.
The Times blew this case open three years ago with a giant page one story that noted that virtually every Long Island Railroad worker who applies for disability gets it. And that’s on top of what sounds like a fairly enviable pension plan that enables employees to retire at 50.
The L.I.R.R.’s disability rate suggests it is one of the nation’s most dangerous places to work. Yet in four of the last five years, the railroad has won national awards for improving worker safety.
“Short of the gulag, I can’t imagine any work force that would have a so-to-speak 90 percent disability attrition rate,” said Glenn Scammel, long one of Capitol Hill’s top experts on railroads. “That defies both logic and experience.”
Two doctors were among those charged yesterday for running what the federal investigators are calling a “disability mill,” in which they received between $800 and $1200 for fake assessments and so called “illness narratives.” They are Peter Ajemian of Syosset and Peter Lesniewski of Rockville Centre.
The feds placed surveillance on some former LIRR employees who’d retired with disability benefits. According to the Times story, Regina Walsh of New Hyde Park collects $108,000 a year in pension and disability, but was seen shoveling snow for over an hour and pushing a stroller.
Steven Gagliano of Babylon gets $75,000 a year due to “severe and disabling back pain,” but was able to suck it up and compete in a 400-mile bike tour.
U.S. attorney Preet Bharara is spearheading the investigation. You don’t want Preet Bharara digging into your life.
The rampant fraud comes at a time when states and whole nations are crippling under the weight of pensions they can no longer afford (Rhode Island…Wisconsin…Greece)–pensions that people worked most of their lives toward and deserve and in some cases are being asked to give up, in part, so governments can keep schools and libraries open, pick up garbage on some sort of regular schedule, and properly police the streets.
Of course, many LIRR workers were rightfully disabled and deserve these benefits. Lots and lots and lots of others–including, according to today’s Times, Sharon Falloon of Merrick, Gary Satin of Mooresville, NC, Richard Ehrlinger of Bay Shore, Gregory Noone of Islip, Joseph Rutigliano of Holtsville and Marie Baran of East Meadow–milked the system to their considerable benefit.
Sharon Falloon, for her part, gets $90,000 a year in disability and pension, says the Times, and her disability makes it hard for her to climb stairs. Yet she held up fine when surveillance video had her doing aerobics at the gym.