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LIRR issues warnings to 8 conductors caught in sting operation

Despite investigators' recommendations, the LIRR opted not to

Despite investigators' recommendations, the LIRR opted not to discipline eight conductors caught violating policy. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Island Rail Road has issued warnings to eight conductors for not properly punching or turning in passengers’ tickets.

Undercover investigators from Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny's office, riding LIRR trains between 2019 and 2020, caught conductors on 15 different instances failing to punch — or "cancel" — the tickets in front of customers, and to remit those tickets back to the agency at the end of their shift, as required.

The sting operation came after then-LIRR conductor Robert Anderson was caught collecting train tickets, then giving them to his friends to use or submit for refunds. He pleaded guilty in July to felony and misdemeanor charges, paid a $1,000 fine and resigned from the railroad.

"While the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] did not find that the conductors took these tickets for personal gain as Anderson did, the OIG found that the Conductors violated agency policy designed to protect the agency’s revenue and employees from allegations of fraud," investigators wrote in their report.

Despite investigators’ recommendations, the LIRR opted not to discipline the conductors caught violating the policy, choosing instead to issue "Letters of Caution … to serve as a warning regarding their failure to properly perform their duties," according to the report. The conductors, who were not identified in the report, had a range of experience at the LIRR, from four years to 23 years.

"The Conductors were also instructed to review the appropriate policies and told that any further violation of this nature will result in disciplinary action," the report said. "Additionally, LIRR is taking appropriate measures through notices and training to ensure that everyone in the department is reminded and aware of the policies."

LIRR officials said the conductors who were caught make up just a small fraction of the 1,200 employed by the railroad, and that there is nothing to suggest they sought to do anything inappropriate with the unremitted tickets.

"The LIRR expects the highest performance from its train crew members, and these conductors have been reinstructed about proper ticket collection procedures," LIRR spokesman Mike Cortez said. "Their actions do not represent the high levels of adherence to procedures of the vast majority of the LIRR’s hardworking employees."

According to the report, the LIRR’s internal train service manual requires that all tickets be "immediately canceled in the presence of the customer" — typically by punching a third hole in them. Conductors are to place the invalidated tickets in a remittance envelope, and turn them in to a ticket clerk at the end of their run. The tickets are later sent to the LIRR’s Revenue Office for review.

Out of 15 one-way tickets used by the undercover investigators, none were in the remittance envelopes turned in by the eight conductors ensnared in the operation.

Although all eight conductors, in interviews with investigators, said they were aware of the policy, all admitted to regularly throwing away collected tickets. One conductor "said there would be no ‘rhyme or reason’ as to why he would keep or throw out tickets and claimed it was due to laziness." All eight conductors denied keeping the tickets for personal gain.

In some cases, the conductors said they were following COVID-19 protocols, which allowed them to discard tickets to minimize contact among employees.

Anthony Simon, who heads the union that represents LIRR conductors, said there was no evidence of "a scam" and that the findings only highlighted the lack of oversight by railroad management.

"While some of the employees may have had procedural issues, they certainly were not being dishonest," Simon said.

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