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14th ex-LIRR worker pleads guilty in fraud disability

A file photo of the LIRR tracks near

A file photo of the LIRR tracks near the Jay switching station on the west side of Jamaica train station. (Sept. 30, 2011) Credit: Charles Eckert

Another former Long Island Rail Road worker pleaded guilty Wednesday to filing a fraudulent application for disability benefits, bringing to 14 the number of retirees who have admitted being part of what federal prosecutors say was a massive scam.

Former LIRR station ticket attendant Daniel Denis, 60, of East Rockaway, faces up to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of fraud, conspiracy and false statements to the federal Railroad Retirement Board. He also agreed to pay back $371,000 in a plea agreement.

Denis was accused of conspiring with Dr. Peter Ajemian, one of two doctors who have been charged with supporting hundreds of phony disability claims and serving as linchpins in a scheme that prosecutors say could have cost the government $1 billion.

"I conspired with others by making a false claim to the Railroad Retirement Board by stating that I could no longer work to supplement my retirement, by stating that I was disabled," Denis said at his plea hearing in federal court in Manhattan.

According to a copy of his plea agreement released by prosecutors, Denis -- as have several other defendants who entered guilty pleas -- agreed to "cooperate fully" with the government.

His lawyer, Joel Winograd, denied that Denis was cooperating and said the cooperation deal had been "rescinded." Winograd's and Denis' signatures on the agreement were dated Wednesday.

Denis retired in 2003. He claimed back and shoulder pain that made it hard to sit, stand, walk, bathe, dress himself, drive a car and write, according to the government, but he worked 650 hours of overtime in the year before retirement to maximize his pension, and regularly golfed, put up Sheetrock at his home and worked as a bartender after retiring.

Denis hustled into an elevator and wouldn't comment after his plea. Winograd said he expected any prison sentence to be well below the 50-year maximum in recognition of health problems including a bad heart and Denis' lack of any prior record.

"Mr. Denis is a hardworking, decent man who made a simple mistake," Winograd said. "He worked there for 30 years. He gave it all his efforts. He loved that job."

Asked whether Denis was sorry for his crimes, Winograd said, "I haven't asked him."

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