A onetime Long Island Rail Road manager who lied on a disability application to the federal Railroad Retirement Board got off with a $5,000 fine and no prison time on Tuesday, making him the fourth LIRR fraudster sentenced only to probation.
Prosecutors wanted jail time for Donald Alevas, 55, of Patchogue, a former director of shop equipment planning, but U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood -- citing an LIRR letter praising Alevas for giving up 15 percent of his pension -- decided to be lenient.
"I agree with the government that there should be a consequence attached to lying on such an important form," Wood said. "But it's a very close case as to whether those consequences should be a term of incarceration."
Alevas is one of 33 doctors, consultants and LIRR retirees convicted in Manhattan federal court of a plot to collect phony disability claims that prosecutors say involved hundreds of workers. Leaders of the fraud received 8 years in prison, but three retirees and an office worker got probation.
Alevas' lawyer Robert del Grosso told Wood his case was "unique" because he had a real hearing loss that qualified him for a disability, and pleaded guilty only to embellishing his application by lying about purported orthopedic problems.
Because of the hearing problem, del Grosso said, Alevas was entitled to all the disability money he got. Alevas told the judge, "I am sorry for what I did and I'm especially sorry for putting my family through it." He declined to comment after the sentencing.
Prosecutor Tatiana Martins argued that Alevas shouldn't be let off scot free for submitting a form with multiple lies -- claiming a damaged disc and neck, and difficulty with tasks ranging from sitting and standing to dressing, eating and reading English.
"Some term of imprisonment is appropriate because the flip side is to say you're not punished at all," Martins told Wood.
The LIRR has threatened to seek forfeiture of defendants' separate railroad pension for "misconduct, dishonesty or theft" during their employment. But the LIRR has been willing to settle for a 15 percent cut in the pension -- $5,000 a year for Alevas.
As part of the settlement, an LIRR lawyer told Wood in a letter that Alevas deserved "credit" for accepting only 85 percent of his pension.
"Mr. Alevas has, we submit, accepted responsibility for the harm that his fraudulent conduct inflicted on the LIRR, an acceptance of responsibility having very real financial consequences," lawyer Dietrich Snell wrote.
Wood said the supportive letter from Alevas' ex-employer was an important factor in his favor.