At least 135 Long Island Rail Road retirees filed disability claims using "cookie cutter" language with identical phrases like "Catch 22" that tracked descriptions of pain in an application filed by consultant Joseph Rutigliano, a government auditor testified in the federal LIRR disability fraud trial Wednesday.
Natasha Marx, an analyst with the Railroad Retirement Board's inspector general, said that while various applications cited problems in different body parts -- from necks and backs to shoulders -- they all claimed similar work-related impacts using the same language and formatting as a successful claim Rutigliano made for himself in 1999.
"He prepared exactly the same document regardless of what their ailments were, and charged them money for it," prosecutor Justin Weddle told U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan during arguments about whether Marx's testimony should be admitted.
Consultants Rutigliano, a former LIRR conductor and union leader from Holtsville, and Marie Baran of East Meadow, a former retirement board manager, are accused of conspiring to help hundreds of ex-workers fill out phony applications. Dr. Peter Lesniewski of Rockville Centre is accused of providing medical support for bogus claims.
Twenty-five defendants, including a doctor and a score of retirees, have pleaded guilty in the case. The trial, in its second week, has already featured testimony from a half-dozen retirees who pleaded guilty and have spoken against Lesniewski, Rutigliano and Baran in hopes of getting leniency.
In other testimony Wednesday, Marx said Lesniewski vouched for disabilities for 134 retirees between 2004 and 2008, 13.7 percent of the total of LIRR workers making claims during that period.
Rutigliano's lawyer Joseph Ryan, who will cross-examine Marx Thursday, called her testimony unreliable and said it was unfair to suggest Rutigliano was responsible for phony applications without calling the 135 retirees who filed them as witnesses. Lesniewski's lawyers say he was misled by patients and didn't intend to defraud the government.