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Ex-LIRR conductor, union boss seeks retrial for disability fraud

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 LIRR conductor and union leader is the latest convicted railroad fraudster to request a second trial based on evidence that most disability cases in question were legitimate, court documents show.

Joseph Rutigliano, 68, of Holtsville is serving 8 years in federal prison for his role in what federal prosecutors have called a massive scheme to defraud the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board's occupational disability system.

A jury in 2013 convicted Rutigliano of charging several Long Island Rail Road retirees $1,000 apiece to help them fill out phony disability applications, and also for lying about his own disability.

But in a motion for a new trial filed Tuesday, Rutigliano's lawyer said new evidence shows "no fraud had been committed and no loss had been sustained" by the retirement board.

Just as co-defendant Dr. Peter Lesniewski did in his motion for a new trial earlier this month, Rutigliano's lawyer, Joseph Ryan, pointed to statistics, first uncovered by Newsday last year, showing that nearly all of the LIRR retirees who reapplied for disability benefits after having them terminated because they were examined by doctors convicted of fraud have been, again, approved.

"With the new evidence, the defense would have been able to emasculate the government's bedrock contention that under the RRB regulations the applicant had to be 'unable to work' to the point of being confined to a 'wheelchair' in order to be eligible for the occupational disability pension," Ryan wrote.

A spokesman for Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, declined to comment on the filing.

Responding to defendants' appeals in March, prosecutors argued that whether the LIRR retirees were truly disabled was "irrelevant," because they specifically paid Rutigliano and their doctors to help them lie in their applications.

The federal prosecution stemmed from the high rate of LIRR retirees who received disability benefits, even as some maintained physically active lifestyles. Eventually, 33 defendants were convicted, including 29 former LIRR employees.

Prosecutors said Rutigliano himself collected $409,498 in fraudulent disability benefits despite regularly playing golf at Sunken Meadow State Park.

In the motion for a new trial, Ryan brought up Retirement Board Inspector General Martin Dickman's testimony to Congress in May, in which he clarified that the board's standard for disability is only the "inability to perform a single job task."


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