Former Long Island Rail Road conductor Christopher Parlante became the latest disability fraudster to escape prison time Tuesday, and also received a compliment from the judge and an order to repay $294,717 at a rate of just $25 a month.
Parlante, 61, of Oyster Bay, was a key government witness in two trials that ended in the convictions of the only five co-defendants who did not plead guilty in the LIRR disability scandal. No defendant who agreed to cooperate with prosecutors has yet gone to prison.
"I believe you have provided an important public service," Manhattan U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood told Parlante after sentencing him. "I want to commend you. Good luck."
Altogether, of 33 doctors, consultants and retirees convicted of defrauding the federal Railroad Retirement Board with bogus disability claims, 30 have been sentenced and all 18 who agreed to cooperate after they were caught -- including five who committed perjury -- have gotten probation.
Overall, 20 of those charged in the scam have been put on probation, and only 10 have been sentenced to prison, with terms ranging from 18 months for one retiree to 8 years for two doctors and a consultant whom the government targeted as most culpable.
Parlante, who was an effective, no-nonsense witness, did not make an oral statement at his sentencing, but gave Wood a letter that said he was "ashamed at having dishonored my family" and promised to live an honest life in the future.
"An apology would not begin to express my feelings as I stand before you today," Parlante wrote. " . . . This dark episode in my life has changed me profoundly and I am asking for compassion, your honor. My family needs me."
Parlante retired in 2004 and applied for disability benefits, claiming that knee problems and chronic neck, back and hand pain made it impossible for him to work.
But he worked hundreds of hours of overtime to boost his pension in the months before retiring, prosecutors said, and after going out on disability performed activities ranging from shoveling snow to working out and using weights.
Most defendants in the LIRR disability cases have been ordered to pay back the money they stole through fraudulent claims at a rate of 10 percent of monthly income per month, but Parlante lawyer Josh Kirshner said he had a particularly stressful financial situation.
The presentence report in which court employees describe a defendant's financial status is not a public document. Court filings indicate that he had a $46,000 LIRR pension when he was charged.
Kirshner provided few details of his finances except to say that Parlante rented his house, had his LIRR pension cut by 15 percent due to the fraud, was operating his household with "negative cash flow," was $100,000 in debt and owed $400 a month on his children's student loans.
At $25 a month, it would take more than 982 years for Parlante to repay the retirement board.