Judge sentences LIRR retiree to community work but no jail time in disability fraud

Former Long Island Rail Road employee James Maher Former Long Island Rail Road employee James Maher leaves federal court in Manhattan after being sentenced on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Maher, 60, formerly of Brentwood, pleaded guilty to fraud and perjury, and was ordered to do 300 hours of community service, and to repay $347,481. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Former Long Island Rail Road conductor James Maher Tuesday became the 10th retiree to get no jail time for being part of a massive scheme to make phony disability claims.

Maher, 60, formerly of Brentwood, pleaded guilty last year to defrauding the federal Railroad Retirement Board of nearly $350,000 and then appeared as a government witness against his ex-colleagues at two trials in a bid for leniency.

"This . . . has been the most horrible, humiliating time of my life," Maher, who now lives in Mount Dora, Fla., told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan. "I take full responsibility."

Thirty-three doctors, consultants, retirees and others have been charged and convicted in what prosecutors say was a massive decades-long conspiracy to scam the retirement board that the government says could have cost $1 billion if not stopped.

Of 18 sentenced to date, 10 -- including everyone who agreed to cooperate with the government after they were caught -- have escaped with no jail time. Eight doctors, consultants and retirees who did not cooperate have received prison sentences.

Wood ordered Maher to do 300 hours of community service and to repay $347,481 to the retirement board. She agreed to a repayment rate of $400 a month, giving Maher more than 72 years to pay back what he stole.

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His lawyer, Kevin Kearon, said Maher also agreed to give up 15 percent of his LIRR pension.

Kearon said the $400-a-month restitution was what prosecutors and the judge felt Maher can "reasonably afford to pay." He refused to disclose how much of a pension his client is getting.

Maher retired in 2003 and claimed a disability based on difficulty doing activities ranging from standing and bathing to doing chores and driving.

But, prosecutors said, he worked 1,000 hours of overtime in the year before retiring to maximize his pension, drove 900 miles to Florida after filling out his disability application, and performed home improvement projects in retirement.

When he was called before a grand jury in 2011, prosecutors said, he lied, claiming he had hired a handyman to do the home projects.

Wood said the perjury "would give me pause, but he has completely turned around," noting his cooperation, the fact that he called his crime a crime instead of a mistake, and his volunteer work at a food pantry.

"I'm a better person for all this, having been shown the right way," Maher told her.

Maher declined to comment after the sentencing and stayed in the courtroom for more than an hour after the judge left. A friend with him said Maher wanted to avoid having his picture taken as he left court.

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