Marie Baran, a 66-year-old former federal worker whose conviction for helping scores of Long Island Rail Road retirees fill out phony disability applications made her a symbol of a corrupted system, was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday.
Prosecutors wanted Baran, of East Meadow, to get more than 11 years for using inside knowledge as a former head of the Railroad Retirement Board's Westbury office to earn thousands advising ex-workers on how to fool the agency with bogus disability claims.
The usually confident Baran sobbed, held her lawyer's hand, and at times cradled her head in the crook of her arm during the sentencing, answering "No thank you" in a hushed voice when U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero asked if she wanted to speak.
But despite her silence, the judge said leniency was justified due to medical and family issues, Baran's history of charity and because she became involved only after leaving the retirement board in 2007, when the scam was well underway.
"Ms. Baran was not in a position of trust that her offenses violated," the judge said. "This sentence reflects the proper balance."
Thirty-three doctors, consultants and retirees have been convicted in what prosecutors say was a decadelong conspiracy to boost early retirement pensions for hundreds of LIRR workers by claiming bogus disabilities that could have cost the government $1 billion.
Baran -- who allegedly told an investigator, "You'll never figure this out, honey" -- was accused of making $274,000 as a consultant, charging $1,200 in cash for applications using "cookie-cutter" language, and helping 188 clients fraudulently claim $31 million.
"Marie Baran manipulated a safety net for the disabled and took advantage of the federal agency that employed her for decades," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said after the sentencing. " . . . She will now pay for her crimes."
One of only five defendants who went to trial, Baran testified on her own behalf and said any clients who submitted false claims had duped her. Prosecutors wanted her sentence increased for perjury, but the judge refused.
She still claims she did nothing wrong.
Twenty-two defendants have now been sentenced.
Baran's five-year term was longer than any retiree, but well below the 8-year sentences for the other alleged masterminds of the scheme -- two doctors, Dr. Peter Ajemian and Dr. Peter Lesniewski, and another consultant, former union official Joseph Rutigliano.
Although federal sentencing guidelines called for her to get at least nine years, Marrero said that Baran caused fewer financial losses than the other major players and did not exploit a medical license or an official position.