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Report: LIRR engineer remains on payroll after move to North Carolina

An MTA logo on a Long Island Rail

An MTA logo on a Long Island Rail Road train. Credit: Jeff Bachner

The MTA’s watchdog released four reports Friday detailing alleged wage theft and other improprieties by several Long Island Rail Road employees, including one manager who has remained on the payroll for nearly three years since moving to North Carolina and "coming to his LIRR office a few times a year."

The MTA Inspector General reports — sent to the LIRR between October 2019 and August of this year, but not released until Friday — included findings of LIRR employees being paid for hundreds of hours of travel time that they did not earn, and another who doubled his annual pay through overtime, even though vehicle records show he was often home when he claimed to be at work.

In a statement, Shams Tarek, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR’s parent organization — said the railroad "has implemented a series of aggressive time and attendance controls to increase oversight and accountability" and "continues to pursue additional measures to root out waste, fraud and abuse wherever it occurs."

One report by the Office of Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny detailed the case of an unnamed LIRR managing engineer — still employed by the railroad — who moved to North Carolina in February 2018, but did not obtain the proper authorization to work from his new home until August 2019, the report stated.

Although the managing engineer did inform his immediate supervisors of his plan to "telework," those supervisors — as well as the LIRR’s chief mechanical officer and a general manager — all "provided misleading and inaccurate information about the Managing Engineer’s teleworking status to LIRR’s Executive management."

Tarek said the railroad conducted an internal review of the case and placed the supervisors "on disciplinary notice for failure to retrieve the proper approvals."

He noted that it was ultimately deemed appropriate that the managing employee could work from home because of his "particular expertise" and because he has performed his duties "successfully with continuous oversight." According to payroll records, LIRR managing engineers earned between $111,000 and $123,000 last year.

"We continue to monitor all telework closely," said Tarek, who added that working remotely "has become the new normal for many."

In addition to recommending that all the LIRR employees involved be disciplined, and that the railroad "reassess" the continued employment of the managing engineer still living in North Carolina, Pokorny said the case appeared to violate the State Public Officers’ Law, and forwarded it to the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics "for any action as it may deem appropriate." A joint commission spokesperson declined to comment.

Anthony Simon, who heads the LIRR’s largest union, said the case was "another example of corrupt and irresponsible management practices" at the railroad, and that it exposed "the double standard of accountability between represented essential workers and bosses."

The report surfaced a week after federal prosecutors arrested five current or former MTA employees — including four from the LIRR — on overtime fraud charges that allegedly netted them more than $1 million in pay for time when they were not doing their jobs.

It also comes as the MTA considers thousands of layoffs and service cuts to shrink a massive budget gap brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has decimated ridership and revenues. The agency is seeking a $12 billion federal bailout to make up for the projected deficit.

Two other reports issued by Pokorny’s office targeted five current and former LIRR workers — including four foremen — who claimed, and were paid, tens of thousands of dollars for "travel time," even though their collective bargaining agreements do not allow for such payments.

One employee earned nearly $27,000 in travel time payments. According to the report, the railroad is allowing that worker to keep nearly half of those earnings — and allowing three others to keep all their travel time pay — because "faced with a long history of paying for such time, LIRR concluded that the claims were consistent with LIRR practice."

Pokorny said it is "unfortunate that decades of lax management at the LIRR grandfathered in the expensive practice" of paying for travel time to which union employees are not entitled.

The LIRR is suing the fifth retired employee, Raymond Murphy — the only worker named in all the reports — to recover his travel time payments.

Another report by Pokorny involved an LIRR utility worker who, on 16 occasions, claimed to be at work, even as his LIRR company vehicle was parked at or near his home. In some of those cases, the worker put in for double-time — including during one claimed 23-hour shift. In a settlement, the worker has acknowledged that he owes the LIRR $30,130.

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