If Christopher Parlante is ordering toppings on his pizzas or buying baked goods that haven't made it to the day-old discount rack yet, the taxpayers are getting shafted.
Parlante, 61, is the former Long Island Rail Road conductor sentenced to probation this month after defrauding the federal Railroad Retirement Board of $294,717 in bogus disability payments.
Parlante walked away with probation and an order to repay the money he took . . . at the rate of $25 per month.
Worry not, taxpayers. In just 982 years, the tab will be settled and justice served.
Parlante got this sweet deal, according to his attorneys and a spokesman for the U.S. District Court, because he cooperated in getting others convicted in the scam, and because he is broke, and because he is contrite.
He cooperated, but a more than reasonable reward for that is his freedom. The other 17 people who cooperated also got probation, but are generally having to repay 10 percent of their monthly income to cover what they stole.
How is the fact that Parlante is broke the taxpayers' problem? He stole almost $300,000 and he gets to keep it all, minus however many $25 payments he lives to remit. His attorneys say he will continue to get about $40,000 per year from his Long Island Rail Road pension. He is renting his home, is $100,000 in debt and pays $400 each month on his kids' student loans. So just how much would Parlante need to have stolen to keep his finances in order? And is it legitimate to argue that you can't pay back the money you stole because you have to pay back the money you borrowed for your kids' education?
It does not count as contrition when you get caught and charged, and then, in a letter to the court, say you are ashamed at having dishonored your family, and state, "An apology would not begin to express my feelings as I stand before you today. . . . This dark episode in my life has changed me profoundly and I am asking for compassion."
Parlante did not make a snap decision he tried to take back. He retired and applied for disability payments in 2004, claiming that neck, back, knee and hand pain made it impossible to work. But he increased his pension by logging hundreds of hours of overtime in the months before retiring and had an active post-work life that included weightlifting and snow shoveling.
He has admitted all this, and helped convict several co-conspirators.
He feels bad because he got caught. He's changed his life because he got caught. He cooperated with prosecutors because he got caught.
That's not contrition. It's self-preservation.
Based on the amount he stole, his financial situation and how long he's expected to live (20.5 more years, according to the Social Security Administration's actuarial tables), there was never a chance the government would recoup much of what Parlante stole. Even if he had to give up 10 percent of his income, and his diminished pension is all he'll get, that would have amounted to about $80,000 over 20 years, leaving him short more than $200,000.
But it would, at least, have taken some money out of his pocket, had some effect on his day-to-day life. I understand that making Parlante pay much more would have been tough on him. It likely would have led to some difficult choices in the grocery checkout line or when he can't have that double pepperoni and extra cheese on his pizza.
But when the other option is prison food, anything Parlante eats as a free man ought to taste pretty good to him.