A federal judge on Friday sentenced Dr. Peter Ajemian, one of the doctors at the center of the Long Island Rail Road disability scandal, to 8 years in prison and scolded him for using his medical training as a tool of fraud and criminality.
"Dr. Ajemian corrupted the license publicly granted to him to practice medicine," said Manhattan U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero. ". . . He provided physician's services not to restore patients to good health or prevent sickness, but to turn able-bodied employees into fully pensioned annuitants falsely afflicted by certified lifetime disabilities."
Ajemian, 64, of Garden City and formerly of Syosset, pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy. He was described by prosecutors as the "linchpin" of a decadelong scheme to falsely certify hundreds of able-bodied LIRR retirees as unable to work so they could collect disability payments from the federal Railroad Retirement Board. Left unchecked, the scheme would have allegedly cost $1 billion.
Before a courtroom filled with his wife, son and about 20 friends, Ajemian, a tall, white-haired orthopedist supported by a cane, did not apologize and told the judge that he was proud of every part of a career he spent helping patients except for the final chapter.
"It is a matter of sincere regret that my career should have come to the end that it has, as I find myself before your honor today," the doctor said.
Ajemian was accused of being the most prolific of three physicians prosecutors say were "doctors for sale" who ran disability mills for LIRR workers planning to retire. He certified 734 retirees as disabled, 94 percent of those he saw, the judge said, earning $2.5 million for himself, while his patients got more than $90 million for disabilities but continued to play sports and engage in physical labor after retiring.
In court filings, Ajemian argued that abuses of the disability program were widely known, and lax management at the LIRR and the railroad board bore heavy responsibility for the extent of the scandal. He said he was being "scapegoated" -- a familiar theme among the 23 retirees and others who have pleaded guilty so far, with few expressing remorse.
Marrero said management ineptitude did not mitigate Ajemian's guilt and accused him of taking responsibility "with fingers crossed."
"If in fact the culture among the employer, the employees and unions at the LIRR . . . existed as the pool of potential corruption his remarks now suggest, rather than trying to clean it up he essentially chose to jump in it, and to prescribe its toxic waters to others," Marrero said.
The judge said Ajemian also ill-served his patients, who "went to him as healthy, if misguided, patients and came out as unindicted co-conspirators."
Ajemian declined to comment after the sentencing. He is one of 32 doctors, retirees and others who have been charged, and prosecutors say the investigation is continuing.