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Long Island Rail Road suspends 3 foremen accused in overtime theft

The suit alleges wrongful discharge, defamation and the

The suit alleges wrongful discharge, defamation and the violation of his First and 14th amendment rights. Credit: Newsday File/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The LIRR has suspended three foremen accused by the MTA's watchdog of stealing thousands of dollars from the railroad by claiming they were working overtime, even when they were caught on surveillance spending time at home.

The latest allegations of wage abuse among LIRR workers were uncovered by Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny, who, in two reports, detailed how the three supervisors all more than doubled their regular pay with overtime, including some they didn’t earn.

What to know

Three LIRR foremen have been suspended for 30 days without pay for claiming $11,625 in wages they did not earn, because they were not at work when they were supposed to be.

The three were caught on surveillance by MTA inspector general investigators in 2019 spending time at home on several days when they claimed to be at work. Investigators said one foreman was shopping at Macy's during work hours on nine different days and took a paid sick day while gambling in Atlantic City.

MTA officials said fraud and abuse are "unacceptable," and noted that they have taken measures to curb wage abuse, and to cut overtime costs by nearly $250 million from 2018 to 2020.

The three employees, identified by the Long Island Rail Road as surfacing foreman Dallas Bazemore, 47, of Laurelton, surfacing foreman Mark Speruta, 44, of West Babylon, and track foremen Claude Birong, 46, of Carle Place, all have been suspended without pay for 30 days and forced to pay back a total of $11,625 in earnings.

"Fraud or abuse of timekeeping is unacceptable," MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan said in a statement.

Birong and Bazemore could not be reached for comment. Speruta declined to comment.

Investigators surveilled the three foremen for several months in 2019. Speruta was caught at home on four days he was supposed to be working. Birong was seen at home, or other "nonwork locations" on eight days, according to the reports.

In nine out of 10 days when Bazemore was watched, he was spotted somewhere other than his workplace. A review of his Macy’s credit card uncovered another nine days when Bazemore "was likely shopping during work hours," Pokorny's reports said.

The foremen defended their actions in interviews with investigators, according to the reports. Birong referenced an "unspoken rule" that employees could leave a work site and be on standby at a nearby location if there was no work to do. He said he sometimes went home because his wife was ill.

Speruta told investigators that he sometimes did paperwork at home but is "not the type of guy that hangs out at home when scheduled to work." He later acknowledged using "bad judgment."

Bazemore "stated some jobs ended early, and he sometimes left early on those dates because there would be nothing for him to do," according to the reports. He said trips to Macy’s were likely made during lunch breaks.

Investigators also found that Bazemore took two paid sick days "when casino records showed he was gambling in Atlantic City." Bazemore told investigators that "it was possible he ate something while he was in Atlantic City and got sick enough to not be able to work." Investigators found that claim "not credible."

In addition to the suspension and restitution, Bazemore was given a "last-chance agreement" by the LIRR, which said it will fire him for any future wage violations.

The reports also chided Birong and Speruta for leaving their crews unsupervised while they were absent from work — disregarding "their duty to oversee the employees’ safety and work performance, including ensuring proper time and attendance."

The men each worked for the LIRR for more than 20 years and were known as "high overtime earners," according to the report. Despite having base salaries that ranged from $73,743 and $88,508, the three each brought home more than $220,000 per year from 2018 to 2020.

Bazemore made $362,799 in total pay in 2018. That year was the focus of a payroll report by the Empire Center for Public Policy that led to several investigations into potential overtime fraud at the MTA. Federal prosecutors have brought criminal charges against several current and former MTA employees, including five from the LIRR.

Last week, one former LIRR supervisor, John Nugent, was sentenced to 5 months in jail, and another 5 months' home confinement, after admitting to collecting more than $34,000 in bogus overtime.

Because the foremen’s actions appear to have violated state public officers law, Pokorny’s office said it was referring the cases to the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which can impose civil penalties. A commission spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Donovan said the MTA has taken several measures since 2019 to reduce overtime expenses and curb wage abuse — resulting in overtime costs falling by nearly $250 million from 2018 to 2020. He also noted that all LIRR track foremen are now required to punch in using a new time clock system.

"The new leadership at the MTA is working with our labor partners to build off of recently implemented measures that have resulted in annual overtime expenditures dropping by hundreds of millions of dollars despite the historic amount of work being completed," Donovan said.

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