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Federal prosecutors investigate LIRR, other overtime records, source says

The development would make the U.S. Attorney's Office the latest government agency to probe the alarmingly high rate of overtime paid by the MTA, particularly to LIRR workers.

A host of other agencies are already probing

A host of other agencies are already probing possible overtime fraud at the MTA -- disclosed in an April financial report. Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have subpoenaed pay records for a recently retired Long Island Rail Road worker whose overtime earnings made him the highest-paid employee at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last year, as well as the records of more than a dozen other MTA employees, a source with knowledge of the matter said Friday. 

The development would make the U.S. Attorney’s Office the latest government agency to probe the alarmingly high rate of overtime paid by the MTA, particularly to LIRR workers.

The source, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said federal prosecutors requested "payroll and other records" for the workers about two and a half weeks ago, shortly after the release of an Empire Center for Public Policy report detailing the authority’s payroll in 2018.

The report revealed that six of the top 10 earners at the MTA last year were LIRR laborers, whose senior status allowed them to significantly increase their take-home pay by piling on overtime. The MTA’s highest-paid employee last year, LIRR chief measurement officer Thomas Caputo, made $344,147 in overtime on top of his base salary of $117,499, according to the report.

Caputo, 55, of Holbrook, could not be reached for comment Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office's Southern District of New York, the MTA and the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo all declined to comment.

News of the federal subpoenas was first reported by The New York Times.

LIRR union leader Anthony Simon and bus and subways union leader John Samuelsen both said they had no direct knowledge of a federal investigation.

“I have, and our members have said all along we do not and will never condone bad behavior,” Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, said Friday. “Our men and women do a great job every day, and I will support them and thank them for the amazing work they do. We will continue to do our jobs and do them well.”

Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers Union, said he learned of the investigation through media reports, and that he was not aware of any of his 40,000 members having received a federal subpoena. 

“If anybody at the MTA has evidence [of overtime abuse], they should show it to us. We’re not going to condone straight-up criminality,” Samuelsen said Friday. “The flip side of that coin is that we’re going to defend our members until the end, if there are false allegations of widespread criminality.”

The MTA, its inspector general, Barry Kluger, and the Queens District Attorney’s Office also are looking into the potential for overtime abuse at the MTA.

MTA chairman Patrick Foye has called for increased scrutiny of workers' time and attendance, including through the use of new state-of-the-art biometric attendance recorders at employee facilities that were supposed to replace disparate systems where workers sign in on paper forms or report their attendance by phone. 

Foye also briefly had MTA Police monitor employee attendance at some locations last week — a move that further outraged union leaders. Foye has said he believes the vast majority of the MTA's overtime costs, which reached $418 million last year, is legitimate, but that a "small fraction" is fraudulent.

In contrast, MTA Board member Lawrence Schwartz, who represents Cuomo, last week alleged "constant overtime, payroll and pension abuses” throughout the MTA, and called for yet another investigation — this one to be led by a contracted ex-prosecutor. 

Ricardo Sanchez, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 589, which represents more than 1,000 LIRR employees, called any claims of widespread fraud among the railroad's labor ranks "reckless."

“I don’t know if it exists, but I don’t see it here . . . Can it happen? Absolutely. The system needs to be improved,” Sanchez said Friday. “The vast majority of employees do their job and work within the time frame that they’re given and do what they’re supposed to be doing.”

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