Former Long Island Rail Road workers Philip Pulsonetti and James Reiser pleaded guilty Tuesday to claiming disability benefits based on phony injuries, bringing to eight the number of defendants who have admitted fraud in what prosecutors say was a massive scheme.
Reiser, 59, an ex-conductor from Farmingdale who now lives in Stuart, Fla., faces up to 50 years in prison and agreed to forfeit $226,645 in wrongfully obtained benefits from the federal Railroad Retirement Board.
Pulsonetti, 54, from Remsenburg, faces up to 15 years and agreed to forfeit $176,000.
Reiser, according to his plea agreement, will cooperate with prosecutors, who have charged 32 retirees, doctors and so-called "facilitators" in the scheme. Pulsonetti has not cooperated, and sentencing guidelines call for him to serve 24 to 30 months.
With the eight pleas, cases remain pending in federal court in Manhattan against 24 defendants. In addition, 45 retirees have admitted wrongdoing and been granted immunity under an amnesty program that allows them to keep benefits they have received but give up future benefits. The deadline for that program has expired.
Prosecutors claim that over a decade as many as 1,500 LIRR workers applied for early retirement and tried to make up the shortfall in their pension by falsely claiming disabilities. The government has alleged the scheme could have cost $1 billion in undeserved benefits.
Reiser, according to the charges, worked 1,150 hours of overtime and took only 10 sick days in the 16 months before retiring in 2005 and claiming that he suffered from crippling back and neck pain. After retiring, he allegedly worked as a referee, played basketball daily, golfed and carried groceries into his house.
In his statement to Magistrate Frank Maas, Reiser said that co-defendant Dr. Peter Ajemian -- one of two doctors accused of rubber-stamping disability claims -- provided a medical opinion "which falsely stated that I was unable to continue working."
After the plea, Reiser had no comment, but lawyer Neil Checkman said his client was remorseful.
"He knew he wasn't disabled," Checkman said. "But this was something that was commonplace at the LIRR . . . What we have is a good person who made a mistake."
Pulsonetti's position at the LIRR, and the details of his claimed disability, are not laid out in court papers. In his statement to the judge, he said he "received benefits knowing that I was not entitled to receive them," but afterward Pulsonetti and his lawyer declined to comment.