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LIRR disability fraud investigation may continue

Karl Brittell, one of the defendants in LIRR

Karl Brittell, one of the defendants in LIRR pension arrests, on May 22, 2012. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Another Long Island Rail Road disability fraudster was let off with no prison time at his sentencing Friday, but a prosecutor hinted that the investigation may not be over.

Former LIRR engineer Karl Brittel, 63, of Atlantic City, was put on probation and given 6 months of home confinement, but no incarceration, for claiming more than $300,000 in phony disability benefits and committing perjury before a federal grand jury.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan said probation was merited because Brittel cooperated with prosecutors after pleading guilty last year and provided "substantial assistance" against others -- including "persons who have not yet been charged."

Prosecutors also supported leniency, and before sentencing, Brittel -- a Vietnam veteran and Alcoholics Anonymous volunteer who lived in Long Beach when he worked at the LIRR from 1976 until 2003 -- offered an emotional apology.

"There's no words, there's no sorries I can say that can ever undo the wrong I have done," he told the judge. "I can only hope that God will forgive me."

Brittel is one of 33 doctors, consultants and ex-workers who were convicted or pleaded guilty in what the government says was a vast conspiracy to submit bogus disability claims to the federal Railroad Retirement Board on behalf of hundreds of retirees.

So far, two of the alleged leaders of the conspiracy have gotten 8-year prison sentences. Four retirees and an office worker -- including some who cooperated and some who didn't -- have gotten off with probation, and about two dozen others remain to be sentenced.

When he retired in 2003, prosecutors said, Brittel claimed a phony medical condition not only to defraud the retirement board but also to get waivers of life insurance premiums, collect more benefits on a private disability policy and get a break on student loan payments.

He lied under oath at least four times before a grand jury, according to his guilty plea, including claims he made that he couldn't hold down a desk job or drive a car for three hours a day. Sentencing guidelines called for 33 to 41 months in prison.

Since getting a conviction in the last of the 33 cases last year, prosecutors have not said if any more will be charged in the LIRR scandal. Friday, in response to a Newsday request to unseal a document about Brittel's cooperation, a prosecutor asked to keep secret a paragraph naming "a person not yet charged" -- the same paragraph the judge later cited. Prosecutor Justin Weddle declined to elaborate on the state of the probe afterward, but defense lawyer Robert del Grosso would not rule out future testimony from his client."He understands the individuals who have not been charged, and he understands what can happen," del Grosso said.

In addition to his sentence of home confinement, Brittel was ordered to pay $319,254 in restitution. He also agreed to give up 15 percent of his LIRR pension in a settlement with the railroad.

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