Ex-LIRR worker Fred Catalano gets 37 months for disability fraud

Former Long Island Rail Road worker Fred Catalano,

Former Long Island Rail Road worker Fred Catalano, of Nesconset, leaves court on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, after being sentenced to to 37 months in prison for defrauding the government. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Riley

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Former Long Island Rail Road worker Fred Catalano, a maintenance foreman who was videotaped practicing jiujitsu after retiring on disability, was sentenced Wednesday to 37 months in prison for defrauding the government.

Catalano, 52, of Nesconset, was one of only five defendants of 33 charged in the LIRR disability scam who went to trial. His 37-month sentence was the longest yet handed out to an ex-worker convicted only of filing a false claim.

Catalano, who testified at his trial that he was in fact episodically disabled by back, neck and shoulder pain despite sometimes feeling well enough to do jiujitsu, had asked for probation and appeared stunned after U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood sentenced him.

"I think she should have given me home confinement or probation," said Catalano, who was also ordered to pay back $62,000 to the federal Railroad Retirement Board. "I'm not a threat to society."

"No sentence is fair for a person who should not have been convicted," said George Dazzo, Catalano's lawyer. "She punished him for insisting on his right to a trial."

Federal sentencing guidelines called for Catalano to get 37 to 46 months. In other sentencings to date, six retirees and an office worker have gotten probation, and three ex-workers got jail time topping out at 33 months.

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Two doctors and a consultant convicted of helping dozens of retirees file false claims each got eight years in prison, but last month Wood sentenced Thomas Coscetta -- a former conductor whose fraud involved $307,000 and who threatened a witness -- to 33 months.

Prosecutors told Wood that Catalano was worth more than $1 million. The judge described the LIRR fraud as "breathtaking in scope," and said, "Mr. Catalano was not driven to commit the fraud out of financial difficulty at all."

Dazzo said most of the alleged wealth was in Catalano's home. He argued that Catalano was just a small fish, telling Wood to "mete out punishment that fits the crime."

The government contends that, although only 33 defendants were charged, hundreds of LIRR retirees submitted phony claims for over a decade, and the scheme could have cost the government $1 billion if not checked.

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