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Husband-and-wife LIRR conductors stole wages, MTA internal watchdog says

The MTA has since 2019 adopted several reforms

The MTA has since 2019 adopted several reforms aimed at curbing wage theft, including by regularly auditing high overtime earners. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A husband and wife working as LIRR conductors stole $3,400 in wages from the railroad by covering for each other when one would stay home from work, according to a new report from the MTA’s internal watchdog.

The report from the office of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny said the unidentified married couple, on more than six occasions, committed "time theft" and falsified records by punching each other’s time clocks to create documentation that both had shown up to work.

"Basically, they were scheduled to work the same train during their shift, but the [Office of the Inspector General] caught them allowing one or the other to be home instead of both working the train," the report said. "Notably, each of these shifts included three hours of built-in overtime."

The Long Island Rail Road, in its formal response to the report, said the employees, who were both hired in 1994, have admitted to the charges and accepted punishment, including giving up 25% of their salaries for 15 days and repaying their wages for two days that they lied about working.

The couple can be hit with an additional 15-day suspension if they commit a similar offense within a year. They are also not allowed to work together for one year.

"We take abuse of time and pay violations very seriously and cooperated with the Inspector General’s investigation while taking immediate disciplinary action as soon as we became aware of this unacceptable misconduct," MTA spokeswoman Kayla Shults said.

No criminal charges had been filed against the couple.

Following a tip from the railroad, investigators surveilled the husband and wife over four weeks and confirmed two instances of them covering for each other’s absences. In interviews with investigators, the couple later "admitted to doing this on upwards of six occasions, citing their need to care for a family member on short notice."

This marks the latest in a series of incidents of LIRR employees accused of fraudulently collecting pay for work they didn’t do.

In February, five current or former railroad workers were indicted on charges of fraud and conspiracy for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of dollars in unearned overtime pay and then working together to cover it up.

The heightened scrutiny of LIRR employees’ time and attendance followed a 2019 payroll report by the Empire Center for Public Policy that revealed alarming overtime rates among the agency's top earners — particularly at the LIRR.

The MTA has since adopted several reforms aimed at curbing wage theft, including by regularly auditing high overtime earners. MTA officials have said the measures have helped the agency cut overtime costs by $238 million from 2018 to 2020.

Pokorny’s office has criticized the MTA for being slow to implement other reforms, including a plan to have all employees use biometric time clocks to verify their time and attendance.

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