Philip Pulsonetti, a retired Long Island Rail Road supervisor who ran 10-minute miles in a 10k race just weeks after claiming he was too disabled to keep working, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for fraud in federal court on Friday.
The former LIRR crew dispatch manager became only the 10th defendant sentenced to a prison term in the sprawling scandal despite a personal plea to Manhattan U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero as his wife and a daughter looked on.
"I was raised to follow the moral compass of the law, and this I failed to do," said Pulsonetti, his voice choked with emotion. " . . . Please have mercy on me and my family."
Pulsonetti, 56, of Remsenburg, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and health care fraud in 2012. In addition to 18 months in prison, which he will begin serving in July, he was ordered to repay $176,000 in benefits he obtained fraudulently.
Thirty-three doctors, consultants and LIRR retirees have been charged and convicted since 2011 in what the government says was a massive scam to make phony disability claims involving hundreds of ex-workers to the federal Railroad Retirement Board.
Of 29 sentenced so far, 19 have avoided prison -- including all 17 who agreed to cooperate with prosecutors against their ex-colleagues after being caught. Prosecutors urged leniency for those 17, including five who committed perjury before admitting the fraud.
Those who have gone to trial or, like Pulsonetti, pleaded guilty without cooperating, have not fared as well. In his case, prosecutors argued a "significant sentence" was needed to deter others. Ten of the 12 who did not cooperate have gone to jail.
Pulsonetti retired early in 2008, claiming back, foot and knee pain that began in 2002 and made it hard to sit, stand or walk, prosecutors said, but he took part in triathlons in 2002 and 2004, and ran the 10k race the same month he claimed his disability.
He also worked 3,000 hours of overtime in the 18 months before retiring, a government filing said, and told investigators he felt "entitled" to claim a disability because he had paid a lot of money into the railroad retirement system while at the LIRR.
Defense lawyer Anthony LaPinta urged Marrero to take into account serious medical and emotional problems that he said have "pulverized" Pulsonetti and his family, and consider the same nonjail sentence he gave cooperators who committed perjury.