LIRR supervisor accused of fraud: 'I didn't lie'

(L-R): Jesse Catalano, O'Sensei Joseph B. Puleio, Alison

(L-R): Jesse Catalano, O'Sensei Joseph B. Puleio, Alison Catalano, and former LIRR employee Frederick Catalano, exit Federal Court after testifying in Manhattan. (Oct. 3, 2013) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

A Long Island Rail Road supervisor accused of lying to get a disability pension argued that he disclosed that he practiced jiujitsu by writing "gym" on a federal form, during a combative cross-examination Friday.

Former maintenance crew foreman Frederick Catalano, 52, of Nesconset, denied that he was trying to hide his martial arts activity from a doctor who was reviewing his claim when he didn't mention it in his answer to a question about sports and hobbies.

"I put down on the form 'gym,' " Catalano testified in federal court in Manhattan. "That would be an English term for juijitsu. He never would have understood it, and I would have had to explain it."


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Catalano, who pursued a fifth-degree black belt and participated in a Pentagon training program after claiming disabling back, neck and shoulder pain in 2011, also suggested that his answer was correct because juijitsu was not a sport or a hobby.

"It's a lifestyle," he told prosecutor Nicole Friedlander. " . . . It's an art form."

Catalano and former LIRR conductor Michael Costanza, 60, of Merrick, are charged with conspiracy and fraud for allegedly scheming with doctors, conductors and hundreds of other retirees to make phony disability claims to the federal Railroad Retirement Board.

Thirty-three defendants have been charged in the case, and 31 have been convicted. Catalano and Costanza, who did not testify, rested their cases Friday. The 2-week-old trial resumes next week with prosecution rebuttal evidence and summations.

Both men's nonwork activities have been a focus of the trial. Costanza golfed and served as a North Merrick fireman after claiming his LIRR disability, and prosecutors showed both pictures and a video of Costanza performing juijitsu moves in 2010 and 2011.

Earlier witnesses said that Catalano had complained of back pain as long ago as 2003, and he testified that his job required climbing, opening heavy doors, and other tasks that took too much of a physical toll after 30 years at the LIRR.

Although he boosted his pension with hundreds of hours of overtime in the months before retiring, Catalano said that work was not as stressful as his regular job. "Because of my seniority, I was able to choose the jobs that were least difficult," he testified.

When he applied for disability, Catalano testified, he made a couple of unintentional mistakes. But in a sharp exchange with Friedlander, he loudly denied making things up.

"I didn't lie on any form," he told her.

After retiring, Catalano said, he was able to take pain medication that the LIRR doesn't allow, and he said that he made a special effort to "suck it up" to attend the Pentagon demonstration.

He admitted that after his arrest in 2012, he took down the YouTube video of his 2010 test for his fourth-degree black belt that prosecutors eventually played at trial. But Catalano said he wasn't trying to hide it -- he was just trying to avoid Internet critics.

"I had a lot of bad press," he testified. " . . . I didn't want to see any negative comments on YouTube. I don't like negativity."

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