The offer of criminal amnesty to 1,500 Long Island Rail Road retirees on disability pensions might mean all the major players have been ensnared in a major federal investigation, legal observers said yesterday.
But attorneys representing some of those charged said the offer mailed yesterday to pension abusers who have not yet been charged shows the weakness of the federal government's case against the 11 people indicted last year.
"My guess is they've made their cases on the most serious offenders, and they're just looking to mop up," said Fred Klein, a professor at Hofstra Law School and former Nassau County prosecutor.
It appears to be an efficient way for prosecutors to dispose of hundreds of low-level violators after charging what they see as the more egregious or central players, a former prosecutor said.
"It seems like an innovative way for the government to proceed," said Daniel Richman, the former prosecutor and a Columbia Law School professor. "It occurs in the drug area, it occurs in white-collar prosecutions, and it is now occurring in the fraudulent claims area."
Defense attorney Joseph Ryan said, however, that the amnesty offer was "a confession by the government that they have no case."
"It's all part of a prosecution strategy to get witnesses they don't have," said Ryan, who represents defendant Joseph Rutigliano of Holtsville, one of the 11 people charged in October. Ten defendants were charged Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Tuesday the amnesty was offered in light of "the sheer scale of the alleged fraud, and in order to quickly relieve the [pension board's] multi-hundred-million-dollar disability payment obligations."
Former federal prosecutor Bruce Green, now a professor at Fordham University School of Law, said the amnesty offer "seemed like a good deal to me. . . . I don't see it as a sign of weakness."
Attorney Stephen Scaring, who represents defendant Steven Gagliano of North Babylon, who also was indicted in October, said the amnesty offer was coercion in disguise. "If you're a LIRR retiree sitting at your kitchen table and you're of limited means and you're talking to your wife, saying, 'Maybe we should tell them what they want us to tell them.'
"They're basically threatening people," Scaring said. "It's the retired LIRR employee against the power of the U.S. government. It's not an even fight."
With John Riley