Only 44 Long Island Rail Road retirees have been accepted into an amnesty program offered by Manhattan federal prosecutors who claim that hundreds face the prospect of criminal charges for filing fraudulent disability claims.
The number -- well short of the 1,500 that prosecutors believe may have submitted phony claims to the federal Railroad Retirement Board in a decade long scheme that allegedly could have cost the government $1 billion -- was disclosed in a court filing Tuesday night.
The amnesty program offers immunity from prosecution to those who admit wrongdoing and give up their monthly disability payments. Defense lawyers for 32 retirees, doctors and others already charged with fraud in the scheme have argued that the program -- coupled with threats to prosecute those who don't sign up -- would coerce other retirees to testify against them.
But prosecutors, in their response Tuesday night, said the paltry number of participants shows the incentives are far from irresistible or intimidating.
"Demonstrating the absence of intimidation is the empirical fact that, to date, some 44 individuals have been accepted into the program," the government wrote. "While this level of participation in the program will result in substantial savings to the RRB, it falls well short of the likely number of participants in the fraud."
"Clearly," prosecutors added, "the vast majority of the 1,500 . . . felt no threat or intimidation to bend to the allegedly 'coercive' force of the program."
The amnesty program allows those who sign up to keep their LIRR pensions, and at least part of any money they have already been paid for their disabilities.
Until Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office had not released any numbers on participation in the program. It expires on Friday.