A former Rockville Centre orthopedist was sentenced Friday to 8 years in prison and ordered to pay a $141 million penalty for his role in the massive Long Island Rail Road disability fraud scheme.
Peter Lesniewski, 63, who surrendered his medical license after his conviction last August, had nothing to say before U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan imposed the sentence.
Marrero departed from sentencing guidelines calling for a prison term of about 11 to 14 years.
"This is still a severe sentence for a 63-year-old man," defense attorney Thomas Durkin said afterward.
Durkin had argued that his client deserved only a 21/2-year-sentence because his conduct wasn't as egregious as that of other doctors ensnared in the fraud.
During last year's trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Lesniewski recommended more than 230 LIRR workers for disability benefits and used his practice to generate fake medical narratives for them to use for their disability claims.
Prosecutors said after Lesniewski's conviction that his conduct helped enable LIRR employees to retire and claim disability on top of their regular pensions.
The disability payments came from the federal Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which prosecutors said lost hundreds of millions of dollars from the scheme.
"Regrettably, Dr. Lesniewski is one of a number of health care professionals whose gross misconduct has depleted the RRB's funds and diverted benefits from the rightful beneficiaries of its disability program," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement after Lesniewski's sentencing.
In court papers, prosecutors estimated that Lesniewski's conduct caused actual losses to the disability system of more than $70 million and that he earned substantial profits from the fraud.
He was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and health care fraud, and conspiracy to defraud the retirement board, as well as other crimes.
Marrero saddled Lesniewksi with a $70.9 million asset forfeiture order and also said he had to pay another $70.6 million in restitution. Officials said the restitution was to be paid to the retirement board and health insurance companies.
The disability scheme led to a far-reaching investigation and has resulted so far in close to three dozen convictions, mostly through guilty pleas. Investigators said that from 1995 through 2011, more than 75 percent of the retiring employees stopped working and began receiving disability payments, compared with only 25 percent of retiring Metro-North employees in the same situation.
Marrero said he would allow Lesniewski, whose family and friends were in court, to surrender in July after one of his daughters gives birth. But Marrero denied a bid by Lesniewski to remain free on bond pending an appeal of his sentence.
After sentencing, Lesniewski formed a prayer circle in the hallway of the courthouse. He declined to comment to reporters.
With Maria Alvarez