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Two more plead guilty in LIRR pension fraud

A new report says LIRR has untapped potential

A new report says LIRR has untapped potential to transform the economies of Nassau and Suffolk. Credit: Chris Ware

Two more Long Island Rail Road retirees pleaded guilty to claiming phony disabilities Wednesday, bringing to six the number of ex-workers convicted in the federal government's probe of what it alleges was a $1 billion fraud.

Michael Stavola, 55, of Massapequa Park, and Christopher Parlante, 60, of Oyster Bay, both agreed to cooperate under plea agreements with the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office -- adding to the government's arsenal of evidence against 26 remaining defendants.

Both men admitted their guilt in spare statements before U.S. Magistrate James Cott, but provided no details on their feigned disabilities or how much money they stole from the federal Railroad Retirement Board, which funds disability claims. Neither expressed any remorse.

Parlante, a former conductor, was accused by the government of working 1,150 hours of overtime in the two years before he claimed he was disabled by chronic pain that made it hard for him to bathe, sleep, dress or do chores. After he began collecting his disability, prosecutors said, he was seen doing heavy snow shoveling.

"In or about 2004 I agreed with others to submit applications . . . that were materially false or misleading," Parlante told the magistrate. He faces up to 50 years for conspiracy, fraud and filing false statements, and agreed to forfeit $294,717 in benefits he unlawfully obtained.

The details of Stavola's LIRR job and claimed disability are not described in court papers. He pleaded guilty to perjury before a grand jury in 2011 in addition to fraud, false statements and conspiracy. He faces up to 85 years in prison, and also agree to forfeit $160,023 in disability payments.

"In 2008, I falsely filed a Railroad Retirement Board disability form to obtain disability benefits," Stavola said.

The government has charged 28 retirees, two doctors, a medical office manager and a so-called facilitator with participating in a decade-long scheme to rip off the federal Railroad Retirement Board. Prosecutors contend that as many as 1,500 retirees may have made false claims.

Besides the six who have pleaded guilty, at least 44 retirees have admitted wrongdoing under an amnesty program that grants immunity from prosecution. The deadline for applying for amnesty has passed.

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