A former Long Island Rail Road conductor has pleaded guilty to a federal charge in connection with a massive disability fraud investigation, federal prosecutors said.
Richard Ehrlinger, 66, of Bay Shore, faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty Thursday to one count of making a false statement to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said in a statement.
Ehrlinger has also agreed to repay the retirement board $32,000, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, Ehrlinger applied in 1998 for disability payments from the board, saying in his application that knee pain made standing and walking "hard." But after his retirement, he loaded and unloaded stacks of chairs and tables for the party rental business that he ran, court papers said.
When Ehrlinger recertified his disability in 2011, he checked "No" when asked if he was working for someone other than the railroad, or if he was self-employed.
His attorney, Richard Albert, said his client is disabled, with two replacement knees, but he was afraid of getting his disability payments reduced.
"Under the program, if you're working and earning money, you have to tell them that, and they may reduce the amount of the benefits," Albert said. "He has agreed that there was a certain portion of the benefits that he got beyond what he would have been entitled to."
Ehrlinger is the 23rd person to plead guilty in the federal investigation into alleged fraud by hundreds of former LIRR workers.
Under the scheme, the workers would exploit the overlap between the LIRR pension plan and the Railroad Retirement Board's disability plan by filing false disability claims with the help of certain doctors, prosecutors said. Workers could retire as early as age 50 and receive an annual disability payment from the board on top of their LIRR pensions, federal officials said.
Prosecutors have charged 32 people in the investigation.