Accounting of LIRR disability fraud sought

Dr. Peter J. Ajemian exits federal court in

Dr. Peter J. Ajemian exits federal court in Manhattan. Ajemian was one of 10 people arrested by federal agents in connection with a $300 million scheme to defraud the Long Island Rail Road on disability claims. (Oct. 27, 2011) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

In the wake of last week's arrests in the Long Island Rail Road disability scandal, Sen. Charles Schumer asked Saturday for a federal accounting of what's been done to recover past improper payments.

The New York Democrat called on the inspector general of the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board to examine to what extent the board fulfilled a 2008 promise to re-examine dubious claims it had approved. Schumer, in a letter to Inspector General William H. Tebbe, said he wants a full accounting of how much money the agency has been able to recover.

The board made that promise in the wake of a 2008 New York Times report that showed the LIRR had a disability rate three to four times that of the average railroad.

Newsday reported Thursday that the percentage of LIRR disability claims approved by the retirement board fell to 85 percent in 2010, compared with 98 percent in 2008.

But Schumer reminded the board Saturday that it had agreed not only to improve its handling of future claims but also to re-evaluate questionable claims from before 2008.

Schumer, who wasn't available for comment Saturday, wrote Tebbe: "I write to express concern that taxpayers remain on the hook for the erroneous payments . . . I would like to know how much, in dollar terms, was improperly awarded, and, of that amount, how much you have administratively recovered and how much remains outstanding."

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office on Thursday brought charges against 11 people while outlining a decadelong scheme to collect on hundreds of phony LIRR disability claims worth as much as $1 billion.

LIRR spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Saturday the MTA will continue to cooperate with the FBI and prosecutors and will also cooperate with the inspector general.

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