LIRR disability fraud case goes to jury
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Criminal conspiracy and fraud charges against a doctor and two consultants accused of helping hundreds of Long Island Rail Road workers make phony disability claims went to the jury late Thursday after a two-week trial.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero finished reading two hours of instructions at 5 p.m. and told jurors to return at 9:30 a.m. today to begin deliberations on the fate of orthopedist Dr. Peter Lesniew-ski of Rockville Centre, former LIRR conductor and union official Joseph Rutigliano of Holtsville and former Railroad Retirement Board manager Marie Baran of East Meadow.
Just before the jury charge, prosecutors asked Marrero to trim 12 counts from the 33-count indictment, eliminating fraud charges involving four LIRR retirees who have pleaded guilty, but were not called as witnesses to testify about their fraud. They told the judge they had "streamlined" their case because the half-dozen retirees who did testify were so "compelling."
If Marrero approves the revision, as expected, jurors will consider a 21-count indictment. Lesniewski faces two counts of conspiring to provide medical verification of phony claims. Rutigliano and Baran face two counts of conspiring with Lesniew-ski and two additional counts of conspiring with another orthopedist, Dr. Peter Ajemian, who pleaded guilty to fraud.
In addition, all three face multiple counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and health care fraud for aiding in the claims of six different retirees who testified at trial. Rutigliano and Lesniewski are also charged with fraud in Rutigliano's own disability claim in 1999, and Rutigliano is charged with making false statements for failing to report his consulting work in a recertification of his disability.
The case stems from an investigation that began in 2008, following reports that hundreds of LIRR workers had combined an early retirement pension with disability applications. From 1998 until 2011, prosecutors say, 79 percent of LIRR retirees got disabilities, compared with just 21 percent at Metro North.
Altogether, 33 retirees, doctors and so-called facilitators have been charged. Twenty-five have pleaded guilty. Baran, Lesniewski and Rutigliano are the first three to go to trial.