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Testimony delayed in LIRR disability trial

Jury selection in the first Long Island Rail Road disability scandal trial ground to a halt Tuesday when the pool of prospective jurors ran out, forcing a delay of at least a day before the start of opening statements and testimony.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero summoned a pool of 100 prospective jurors, hoping to qualify 32 who were free of potential bias and able to sit for a five- to six-week trial -- enough to leave a jury of 12 plus alternates after both sides exercised challenges.

But after two days of jury selection, only 25 were qualified and no new prospective jurors were available at federal court in Manhattan, lawyers said. Marrero sent everyone home until Wednesday morning, when an additional group of jurors will be available for vetting.

Attrition of potential jurors was the result of many hardship claims based on the length of the trial, jurors who formed opinions based on extensive pretrial publicity about the case, and other factors, lawyers said.

Prosecutors have charged 33 LIRR retirees, doctors and others with a decadelong conspiracy to scam money from the federal Railroad Retirement Board through phony disability claims.

Dr. Peter Lesniewski of Rockville Centre, one of two physicians accused of endorsing phony claims, former LIRR union official Joseph Rutigliano of Holtsville, and former RRB worker Marie Baran of East Meadow are the first three to go to trial.

Twenty-five defendants have pleaded guilty.


Impasse kills project to speed Harlem bus

The MTA and the city's Department of Transportation are shelving a plan to speed up bus service on Harlem's 125th Street after reaching an impasse with local politicians and community boards.

Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman, said there are still "a number of concerns" community leaders had that the MTA and DOT were unable to resolve. The project would have given bus riders in Harlem an alternative to the pokey M60 bus that can be slower than walking across town.

"We do hope to have a continued dialogue with community stakeholders about ways that we can continue to improve bus speed and service, traffic flow, parking, and pedestrian safety along 125th Street," Ortiz said.

The project would have made the M60 to LaGuardia Airport an express bus with six stops in Manhattan, off-board fare collection, a dedicated bus lane between Lenox and Second avenues, and improved pedestrian safety.

-- amNewYork

32 city parks offer free wireless Internet

Free wireless Internet hot spots have popped up in 32 parks around the city for certain cable customers, the city announced Tuesday.

The free unlimited service is available to Internet service customers of Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Comcast and smaller companies such as Cox and Bright House Networks. Subscribers can use free unlimited Internet service on smartphones, tablets and laptops.

For the rest, Internet access in parks will be free during three, 10-minute sessions a month or cost 99 cents for all-day service on a single device.

"Increased access to public Wi-Fi is one of the most popular requests we hear from New Yorkers, so today's announcement will be welcome news to residents and visitors alike," Rachel Haot, the city's chief digital officer, said in a statement.

Wi-Fi in the parks will be maintained through July 2020 as part of the communication companies' 2011 franchise renewals agreement, which includes a $10 million investment fund to establish public Internet access. The complete list of parks with Internet access can be found at

-- amNewYork

Nonprofit chief faces grand larceny charges

The head of a Queens nonprofit tied to former state Sen. Shirley Huntley has been accused of spending $88,000 in state and city funds on himself instead of youth summer camp and after-school programs.

The New York attorney general's office says Van R. Holmes, president of Young Leaders Institute Inc. in Queens, was arraigned Tuesday.

He's charged with grand larceny and falsifying records from 2007 to 2012 in taking state grants sponsored by Huntley and city grants from four New York City Council members.

Attorney Howard Birnbach says Holmes pleaded not guilty and was released without bail, with the case adjourned until next week.

Huntley admitted in May embezzling from Queens nonprofit Parents Information Network. She was sentenced to a year in federal prison and $88,700 in restitution.

Compiled with wire service reports

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