Former Long Island Rail Road locomotive engineer Gregory Bianchini pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to disability fraud Wednesday, the latest in a stream of retirees to admit to being part of a conspiracy to rip off the federal Railroad Retirement Board.
Bianchini, who worked for the LIRR for 29 years until retiring in 2003, faces up to 75 years in prison on conspiracy and fraud charges. He also will give up $334,664 in illegally obtained benefits and promised to cooperate with the government in hopes of a lenient sentence, according to his plea agreement.
Prosecutors have charged 32 doctors, retirees and so-called facilitators with being part of massive conspiracy among hundreds of LIRR workers to make phony disability claims, which could have cost the government as much as $1 billion. Bianchini is the 17th to plead guilty.
Bianchini told U.S. Magistrate Kevin Fox that as he prepared to retire it was his "hope and plan" to receive an occupational disability, and that he went to Dr. Peter Ajemian of Rockville Centre -- one of the doctors charged -- because he knew there was a "high rate of approvals" for Ajemian's patients.
He said he had pain, but not disabling pain. "Although I was in pain, I was still able to work," he said. "And I knew that it was a misstatement to state that I could not."
Bianchini, 59, was listed as a resident of Key Largo, Fla., when he was indicted in May. He was scheduled to go on trial on Feb. 11 with Ajemian and three others. Now that scheduled trial, which originally had 12 defendants, has only four remaining.
Leaving court, Bianchini and his attorney declined to discuss his cooperation with the government or even his age. He also declined an opportunity to say he was sorry for his role in the disability rip-off. "I have no comment," he said.