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2 more plead guilty in LIRR disability fraud

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

With a trial looming next month, two more defendants in the alleged Long Island Rail Road disability fraud conspiracy pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan Friday, including the office manager for one of the doctors accused of vouching for hundreds of phony claims.

The pleas from Maria Rusin, of Farmingdale, the former office manager in the Rockville Centre practice of Dr. Peter Ajemian; and Regina Walsh, of New Hyde Park, former director of employee services at the LIRR, brought to 16 the number of defendants who have admitted guilt out of 32 charged.

Rusin, 57, was charged with more than 40 counts of fraud and conspiracy, portraying her as a knowing participant who helped LIRR retirees prepare medical narratives in a scheme in which Ajemian and two other doctors allegedly OKd disability claims that could have cost the federal Railroad Retirement Board as much as $1 billion.

She pleaded guilty, however, to only one count of obstruction of a health care fraud investigation, admitting that she lied when speaking to prosecutors and investigators in 2010 by claiming that she didn't know retirees could increase their pensions if they were found disabled.

"In fact at the time I knew that they would receive more money," she told U.S. Magistrate Henry Pitman. "I intentionally made the false statement."

Rusin began crying after leaving court and declined to comment. Henry Mazurek, her lawyer, said she didn't have an attorney with her when she spoke to investigators. Rusin did not agree to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Ajemian. Rusin faces a maximum of 5 years in prison, and 10 to 16 months under federal sentencing guidelines.

Walsh, 64, was accused of falsely claiming that sitting at a desk caused her neck, shoulder and hand pain, and that she had leg pains when she stood for more than five minutes. She was later seen in surveillance shoveling snow for an hour and pushing a baby stroller for 40 minutes, officials said.

In her plea, Walsh said the application she submitted in 2007 "contained false and exaggerated representations concerning the effects of my physical symptoms on my ability to work."

She agreed to pay back $56,364 in benefits, and faces up to 5 years in prison. Sentencing guidelines call for a term of 6 to 12 months. She has not agreed to cooperate with the government, and declined to comment when asked if she was sorry.

Both women were scheduled to be among the first group of defendants to go to trial on Feb. 11. Seven of 12 defendants in that case have already pleaded guilty.

Those still slated for trial include Ajemian, three retirees he diagnosed, and Marie Baran, a former manager of the Railroad Retirement Board's Long Island office, who allegedly facilitated false claims.

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