Bail revoked for ex-conductor accused in LIRR disability fraud

Tom Coscetta poses for a portrait at his Tom Coscetta poses for a portrait at his home in Southold. A former Long Island Rail Road conductor, he is facing trial on disability fraud charges. (June 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

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A former Long Island Rail Road conductor facing a Sept. 23 trial on disability fraud charges has been jailed for allegedly possessing a rifle in violation of his bail and threatening to kill a witness.

Thomas Coscetta, 62, of Southold, was ordered to be detained Saturday by U.S. Magistrate James Francis after prosecutors said he used a weapon while trapshooting at a Long Island gun club and discussed executing a member he viewed as a "rat."

"The defendant has been engaging in an escalating pattern of intimidation and threats to kill a witness in this case," prosecutor Nicole Friedlander told Francis. "Two witnesses both told the FBI that this defendant . . . is unhinged."

Coscetta was charged last year in federal court in Manhattan with participating in a scheme by LIRR retirees to rip off the federal Railroad Retirement Board with phony disability claims. Of 33 defendants charged, 29 have been convicted or pleaded guilty. He allegedly claimed back, knee and wrist pain that caused "shaking in his hands" and other symptoms, collecting $84,000 in his first year of retirement. Prosecutors charged that the claim was belied by "thousands of rounds" he fired in trapshooting competitions since retiring.

When he was released on bail last September, Coscetta was ordered to turn over his firearms. But Friedlander said he had been seen taking a rifle from the trunk of a cousin's car, shooting rounds at the club and putting it back in the car. She said he made threats to kill the witness, whom she called "Witness One" and identified as a member of the gun club. A friend of the witness, she said, told FBI agents he was "afraid" to talk about Coscetta because he was "unstable" and "obsessed" with Witness One.

Recently Coscetta approached the witness while he was shooting, Friedlander said. "Mr. Coscetta stomped on the ground very close to where Witness One was standing and turned to other people and said, 'You see, I could kill him now!' " she said.

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"We are extremely alarmed," Friedlander told the magistrate, according to a recording reviewed by Newsday.

Lawrence Carra, an attorney for Coscetta, identified the trapshooting club as the Mattituck Gun Club in Cutchogue, where he said Coscetta is chairman and a trustee. He said Coscetta borrowed a shotgun he was selling to his cousin, and said Coscetta may have accused Witness One, with whom he had a feud, of being a "rat." Carra said Coscetta denied making threats.

Francis revoked Coscetta's bail, finding that he was a "danger." No criminal charges have been filed over the alleged threats.

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