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Former LIRR ticket agent gets probation in disability scam

Daniel Denis tries to use an umbrella to

Daniel Denis tries to use an umbrella to block a photographer from taking his picture after being sentenced on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Denis pleaded guilty in January 2013 in connection with a massive fraud scheme in which Long Island Railroad workers claimed to be disabled upon early retirement so that they could receive extra pension benefits to which they were not entitled. Credit: Charles Eckert

A former Long Island Rail Road worker who pleaded guilty to pension fraud was sentenced Tuesday to 2 years' probation by a federal judge in Manhattan.

Daniel Denis, 61, of North Babylon, will have to repay the $371,000 in fraudulent disability benefits he collected since retiring in 2003 after more than 30 years as a ticket agent.

"Your honor, I am truly ashamed, standing before a federal judge, convicted of a federal crime . . . I am sorry," he told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood.

He had faced up to 50 years in prison, but Wood said she did not think time behind bars was appropriate, given his cooperation with federal prosecutors and lack of a criminal record.

Thirty-three people -- including doctors, consultants and railroad retirees -- have pleaded guilty in the massive fraud scheme. Investigators uncovered hundreds of cases in which workers retired on their regular pensions and filed questionable claims for a second pension -- a disability pension from the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

Denis told a grand jury that he had made plans several years in advance to file for a disability pension when he retired, and worked 651 hours of overtime in his final year on the job to boost his pension.

In 2002, his last full year with the LIRR, he earned $93,000, well above his annual salary of $63,514. In 2004, his first full year of retirement, he received $43,000 in LIRR pension and $36,000 in disability pension payments, authorities said.

He claimed in his disability application that back and shoulder pain made it hard to sit, stand, walk, bathe, dress himself, drive a car and write. But authorities found that the retiree regularly golfed, hung Sheetrock at his home and worked as a bartender, according to court papers.

Denis pleaded guilty in January 2013 to four counts of fraud, conspiracy and making false statements to federal pension officials.

He had been living in East Rockaway, where he had been a volunteer firefighter for 17 years, but his home was destroyed by superstorm Sandy.

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