No prison time for 2 in LIRR disability fraud
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Two convicted Long Island Rail Road disability fraudsters got off with no prison time in sentencings in federal court in Manhattan on Friday.
Regina Walsh, 65, of New Hyde Park, a former LIRR employee services director who turned on her ex-colleagues to testify for the prosecution at two different trials, was spared jail after apologizing for faking a disability to get $56,364 in benefits.
She told U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero that she was grateful that she had the chance to help convict five of her co-defendants.
"I am hopeful that my testimony will in some way help to prevent others from committing the same wrongful acts," said Walsh, who lied in 2007 about an orthopedic condition to get her disability.
Former LIRR conductor Richard Ehrlinger, 66, of Bay Shore, was sentenced to 2 years on probation with 6 months of home confinement for lying about making money from a seasonal job after he started getting disability payments.
"I'm sorry for making a false statement," Ehrlinger told Marrero. "I regret my actions and apologize for the harm I caused."
Walsh, Ehrlinger and 30 other LIRR retirees, doctors and consultants have been convicted of participation in a scheme to claim fake disability payments from the federal Railroad Retirement Board that prosecutors say involved hundreds of workers.
The only two retirees sentenced before Friday received 20 months and 30 months in prison, and federal sentencing guidelines called for Walsh and Ehrlinger to each receive between 6 and 12 months. But their lawyers argued their cases were unusual.
Walsh's lawyer said that instead of taking early retirement at 50 and using the disability to supplement an LIRR pension until she reached full retirement age at 60, Walsh waited until she was 58, and collected a smaller amount than most other fraudsters. Marrero also cited her cooperation with prosecutors in finding that 1 year on probation was "appropriate."
In addition, Walsh is forfeiting the $56,364 she got in disability payments. She gets to keep receiving 85 percent of her LIRR pension, and 100 percent of the separate retirement board pension she became eligible for when she turned 60.
Ehrlinger originally was charged with claiming a phony disability due to knee problems when he retired in 1998, after surveillance revealed he was later running a party rental business and loading tables and chairs.
But prosecutors dropped that charge as part of his plea bargain -- he ended up getting double knee replacement surgery, his lawyer said -- and he pleaded guilty only to failing to inform the retirement board about money he was earning from the party business.
In addition to his 6 months of home confinement and 2 years of probation, Ehrlinger was ordered to repay $32,000 of the $371,000 in disability payments he received. None of his retirement benefits have been affected.
Ehrlinger and Walsh both declined to comment as they left court after sentencing.