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Joseph Rutigliano draws 8 years in LIRR disability fraud case

Joseph Rutigliano, a former United Transportation Union local

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

A former Long Island Rail Road conductor and union boss convicted of charging co-workers for helping them file bogus disability claims was sentenced Friday to 8 years in prison.

Joseph Rutigliano, 66, of Holtsville, at times hung his head as U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero imposed the sentence, which includes 3 years of post-release probation and more than $82 million in restitution.

Rutigliano will surrender to authorities to begin his sentence on March 17.

About two dozen of Rutigliano's supporters filled the Manhattan courtroom, some crying and gasping when the sentence was announced.

"I can tell you how my client feels," Rutigliano's attorney, Joseph Ryan, said afterward. "He was railroaded."

In August, a jury found Rutigliano along with co-defendants Dr. Peter Lesniewski of Rockville Centre and former U.S. Railroad Retirement Board manager Marie Baran of East Meadow guilty of conspiracy, fraud and false statements.

Prosecutors said Rutigliano and Baran, 65, charged at least 268 retiring 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.

The three defendants earned more than $1 million combined the government said.

Before Rutigliano's sentence was read, his attorney maintained his client was simply helping retirees navigate a complicated application process.

He called his client an "altruistic" and hardworking family man with a previously "unblemished record."

While not specifying what he was sorry for, Rutigliano said in court, "I want to apologize to my family, friends and fellow workers."

He then thanked them for writing letters of support.

"I respect the court system," he said, before "humbly" asking Marrero to exercise discretion in choosing a "just" sentence.

Rutigliano faced up to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Rutigliano collected $409,498 in fraudulent disability benefits himself.

Jurors watched a video in evidence of Rutigliano playing golf at Sunken Meadow State Park in 2008 -- one of more than 100 times he did so over four years despite retiring in 1999 with a host of debilitating ailments.

In a statement, the LIRR said the sentence sends "a strong signal that those who try to defraud the system will be pursued."

Thirty-three people were charged in connection with the LIRR disability fraud scheme: 28 pleaded guilty; five were convicted after trial, authorities said.

With Maria Alvarez

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