Doctor's lawyer: LIRR at fault in fraud

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Lawyers for the Long Island Rail Road and Dr. Peter Ajemian exchanged sharp words in court filings Thursday about levels of responsibility for the massive LIRR disability fraud scandal, on the eve of Ajemian's scheduled sentencing on conspiracy charges Friday.

Ajemian faces at least 10 years in prison under federal guidelines for endorsing phony disability claims for hundreds of LIRR retirees, but he argued last week that he should not bear the full weight because the LIRR and the federal Railroad Retirement Board were also "culpable."

The LIRR's law firm urged Manhattan U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero to ignore what it described as blame-the-victim arguments when he sentences Ajemian.

"The fraudulent scheme has inflicted severe reputational damage on both the LIRR . . . and its employees," wrote attorney Dietrich Snell. "His outrageous claim of victim complicity, on the eve of sentencing, threatens to exacerbate this last, profound harm."

But Ajemian's lawyer, Thomas Engel, described the LIRR as a "facilitator" of the fraud, citing FBI reports of interviews with LIRR officials who described pension staff "advising" employees on getting disabilities, and evidence the railroad knew about high rates of disabilities.

"The LIRR's attempts to scapegoat Dr. Ajemian ignore that the fiasco that was the . . . occupational disability program was the result of sustained collective failure," wrote Engel, noting that -- unlike Ajemian -- LIRR officials who turned a "blind eye" were never prosecuted.

Claims of some LIRR responsibility in the disability scandal are not new. In 2009, then-Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo said, "Everybody sort of knew about it, but nobody did anything about it."

Federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence between 121 and 151 months for Ajemian, 64, who pleaded guilty this year. He has asked for leniency, but the LIRR and federal prosecutors -- who describe him as a "linchpin" of the scandal -- have urged Marrero to stick within that range.

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