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Thomas Coscetta gets 33 months in LIRR disability fraud case

Tom Coscetta poses for a portrait at his

Tom Coscetta poses for a portrait at his home in Southold. Coscetta, 62, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and fraud charges for claiming $307,000 in disability benefits before enjoying an active retirement of bowling, competitive shooting and working as a funeral home pall bearer. Credit: Daniel Brennan

A former Long Island Rail Road conductor who threatened to kill a "rat" who he believed was a witness against him in a disability fraud case was sentenced to 33 months in prison Friday, but two other LIRR fraudsters received no incarceration.

Thomas Coscetta, 62, of Southold, the conductor who got prison time, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy for receiving $307,000 in disability benefits while he enjoyed bowling and competitive shooting and worked as a funeral home pallbearer in retirement.

Coscetta has been jailed for five months since threatening the witness, a member of his Manorville gun club. Other retirees have received no prison time for fraud, but U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said the threats made Coscetta's case unique.

"That's quite frightening behavior," Wood said. "That has to be an important consideration in the court's view of Mr. Coscetta's character."

Thirty-three doctors, consultants, retirees and others have been convicted in federal court in Manhattan in what prosecutors say was a broad conspiracy to file bogus disability claims with the federal Railroad Retirement Board on behalf of hundreds of ex-LIRR workers.

In sentencings so far, a doctor and a consultant who assisted dozens of workers in the scheme have gotten 8 years in prison. Three retirees, including Coscetta, have gotten prison time, while six retirees and an office worker have avoided imprisonment.

The two former LIRR workers added to that list Friday both got leniency for helping prosecutors build cases against their colleagues after getting caught -- trackman Kevin Nugent, 57, of Port Jefferson Station, and engineering manager Gregory Noone, 63, of East Islip.

Noone, who claimed he couldn't sit at a computer station and then played tennis several times a week, faced 8 to 14 months in jail under federal guidelines. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero gave him three months' house arrest and ordered him to repay $65,000.

Nugent, who competed in golf tournaments after claiming it was hard to bathe or walk, and committed perjury as well as fraud, faced 27 to 33 months under the guidelines. The judge gave him five months' house arrest and ordered restitution of $247,000.

Marrero did not explain the sentences other than to cite "substantial assistance" each man gave to the prosecution. Last week, the judge gave no jail time to another retiree who committed perjury and then cooperated.

Like Nugent and Noone, Coscetta -- who did not cooperate with the government -- asked for leniency. His lawyer, Dennis Lemke, told Wood the threat wasn't serious and was the result of a long-standing feud with a fellow member of the Peconic River Sportsman's Club. No charges were filed over the threat.

"I made a mistake, a very big mistake," Coscetta told the judge. "I'm very sorry for my actions, and I apologize for my conduct."

But Wood showed little sympathy, calling Coscetta's fraud "egregious" -- he claimed on his disability application that he couldn't even grip a pen, and worked as a pallbearer and continued recreational shooting after retirement.

She also said Coscetta leveraged his phony claim to the maximum, using it not only to scam the retirement board but also to get a payment on a private disability policy, early admission to Medicare and forgiveness of student loans.

"He carefully squeezed everything he could out of the system," Wood said.

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