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Ex-LIRR conductor, union boss appeals disability fraud conviction

Joseph Rutigliano, a former United Transportation Union local

Joseph Rutigliano, a former United Transportation Union local president, leaves Federal Court following his sentencing on Dec. 20, 2013. Credit: Bryan Smith

A former Long Island Rail Road conductor and union boss found guilty last year of charging co-workers to help them file bogus disability claims has appealed his conviction.

In his appeal, filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Joseph Rutigliano cited, in part, a Newsday report last month on the high approval rate for disability reapplications by railroad retirees who lost their benefits after two doctors who examined them were convicted of fraud.

Rutigliano, 67, of Holtsville, is serving 8 years in prison after a jury last year found him guilty of fraud for charging several former LIRR workers up to $1,000 apiece to use his insider knowledge of the federal railroad pension system to help them fill out phony disability applications. He also was convicted of collecting more than $400,000 in fraudulent disability benefits.

Rutigliano's attorney, Joseph Ryan of Melville, in the appeal cited the Newsday report that found that nearly 91 percent of all decisions by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board on LIRR retirees who lost their benefits because they were examined by convicted doctors Peter Ajemian or Peter Lesniewski resulted in approval as of Oct. 31.

"Thus, Mr. Rutigliano stands convicted and is serving a sentence of 96 months imprisonment for crimes where the government failed to prove that Mr. Rutigliano or any other claimant was not occupationally disabled and entitled to the railroad annuity," Ryan wrote.

Federal prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.

The high approval rate in the reapplications came despite what a board spokesman called "a substantially enhanced review" that included independent exams conducted by medical specialists chosen by the board and separately reviewed by another board-contracted doctor.

Ryan also argued in the appeal that the evidence against Rutigliano was insufficient, and that the charge was unfair. The only evidence, Ryan said, that Rutigliano was not disabled, as he claimed, was a video of him playing golf.

"There was no evidence that he could walk on uneven terrain, that he could climb, or that he could carry 100 pounds," as Rutigliano was required to do in his job, Ryan wrote. "A golf club weighs less than two pounds."

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