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Long IslandCrime

Former LIRR foreman gets prison in OT scheme

The MTA embarked on the effort to cut

The MTA embarked on the effort to cut overtime costs, including with the LIRR, after a 2019 payroll report by the nonpartisan Empire Center for Public Policy revealed alarming overtime rates, spurring several investigations into fraud and abuse. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former Long Island Rail Road supervisor who admitted participating in what prosecutors called a "long-running and brazen" overtime scheme will spend five months in prison and another five months confined at home.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer meted out the sentence Thursday in Manhattan federal court for John Nugent, 51. In February, he was among five current or former LIRR employees a grand jury indicted on fraud and conspiracy charges for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay.

Prosecutors alleged that when the defendants were supposed to be working, they were at home or enjoying concerts in Atlantic City, vacationing at Virginia resorts, bowling or even running long-distance races.

Nugent, a former LIRR crew foreman, pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy while admitting he collected about $34,000 in fake overtime. He also agreed to pay about $110,000 in restitution, which is "the amount of the losses caused by the charged conspirators," a government court filing said.

Prosecutors asked the judge to give Nugent a sentence within the federal guidelines range of 10 to 16 months in prison, with half served by "community or intermittent confinement."

Defense attorney William Wexler asked the judge to follow a probation official's recommendation of three years of probation for his client, including five months of home confinement. He also said in court papers that Nugent, a husband and father with three adult children, retired in June because of a medical disability and now lives in Florida.

Prosecutors said Nugent and other longtime LIRR employees with whom he allegedly conspired carried out the scheme by agreeing to "cover" for each other's absences by taking turns being out for all or part of shifts, with conspirators remaining to make sure absences weren't noticed, and then submitting false time records.

Prosecutors said Nugent's absences related mostly to a private construction project at the West Side Yard in Manhattan. He became a track foreman in mid-2018 — a year in which he earned $350,000 in pay that included about $242,000 in overtime.

"In total, this made Nugent the eleventh-highest paid employee at the entire Metropolitan Transportation Authority … earning more than the Chairman of the MTA that year," prosecutors said in court records.

Wexler said after Thursday's sentencing that his client had acknowledged his guilt. A U.S. Attorney's Office representative declined to comment.

Court records show Nugent's co-defendants Thomas Caputo and Joseph Balestra pleaded guilty to conspiracy and await sentencing, while defendant Frank Pizzonia is scheduled for a March trial. Defendant Joseph Ruzzo's lawyer said plea negotiations are underway.

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