A Long Island doctor and a medical office manager implicated in the Long Island Rail Road disability scandal were both let go on $750,000 bail packages Friday in federal court in Manhattan, the last of 11 defendants to get released in the alleged $1 billion scam.
Peter Lesniewski, 60, of Rockville Centre, one of two doctors charged with endorsing hundreds of phony disability claims to the federal Railroad Retirement Board, left court arm-in-arm with his wife just hours after surrendering Friday morning.
In an only-in-New-York moment, a group of young filmmakers near the courthouse latched onto Lesniewski as he left, using a long pole to suspend a black balloon over the downcast doctor's head as they filmed him walking away.
Lesniewski did not enter a plea, but his lawyer later denounced the case as a "newspaper-driven investigation" that had been propelled by New York Times stories on the LIRR's disability system in 2008.
"Dr. Lesniewski is a highly respected physician and person," said Chicago lawyer Tom Durkin. "It is far easier to prove a case in The New York Times than it is in the courtroom."
According to the federal complaint filed Thursday, Lesniewski diagnosed more than 90 percent of the LIRR patients who saw him during a 10-year period as disabled. When he was interviewed by the FBI in 2008, it said, he admitted many diagnoses were exaggerated.
But Durkin said he disputed that "interpretation" of the 2008 interview. "I will challenge the government to contradict those diagnoses with competent medical experts," he said.
Maria Rusin, 55, of Farmingdale, an office manager who allegedly helped the other accused doctor -- Peter Ajemian -- to prepare scores of phony claims, was also released on $750,000 bail, despite government objections that she may flee.
At least eight of nine other defendants in the alleged fraud were released on Thursday, hours after their arrests. But Rusin was briefly hospitalized when she became incontinent and unresponsive during the Thursday bail hearing and spent the rest of the night in jail.
Prosecutors said she faked that episode and gave misleading information about property and bank accounts in Uruguay and Croatia because she hopes to flee and not face the criminal conspiracy charges.
But her lawyer, Robert DiDio, said Rusin suffered an anxiety attack Thursday. He said the foreign properties are investments in their native countries owned by Rusin and her husband, both naturalized citizens who now live off Social Security disability payments.
Magistrate Kevin Fox said prosecutors' concerns were speculative. Rusin, leaving court with her husband and daughter, declined to comment. But DiDio said the bail was fair.
"She's going to plead not guilty," he said, "and we're going to fight this case vigorously."