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Filler: LIRR disability fraud case is even more shocking than expected

Michael Constanza, 60, of Merrick, left, and Frederick

Michael Constanza, 60, of Merrick, left, and Frederick Catalano, 52, of Nesconset, exit the Federal Courthouse after the first day of jury selection in the disability fraud trial in Manhattan. (Sept. 23, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

No matter how disgusted and appalled we were primed to feel about the massive conspiracy to defraud the Long Island Rail Road via fake disability claims for retirees, the details that have followed are still shocking. The federal trial of two Long Island men accused of disability fraud are delivering plots so jaw-dropping that they seem like storylines from a movie.

Witnesses say Frederick Catalano, 52, who retired with disability benefits because he couldn’t perform heavy physical labor, had a job that didn’t require him to perform heavy physical labor.

Oh, also, Catalano claimed he had trouble bathing, driving, sitting, standing and walking when he applied for disability payments in 2011, but later trained for a black belt in jiu jitsu. To be fair, he didn’t specifically claim to have trouble leaping, kicking, punching, dodging or yelling “hah!”

Also on trial is Michael Costanza, 60. He claimed he had trouble standing and walking when he retired on disability in 2004, but subsequently passed the tests to be a Class A firefighter seven years in a row. These included a 15-minute crawl through a dark obstacle course carrying 20- to 30-pound air tanks, and a lot of other difficult physical tasks in line with what you’d expect of people who…fight fires.

It all might turn out fine for Costanza though, at least in a way. I would assume he became a volunteer firefighter to give something back to society. If his prosecution goes the way 100 percent of the ones settled so far have, he’s going to be giving back way more to society (in money and time) than he ever would have planned. (Thirty-one people accused in the scandal have already been convicted or pleaded guilty. Various sentences considered have ranged from 15 to 55 years in prison.)

And Catalano? If convicted, he’s never going to be glad he got caught training in martial arts after he claimed to be physically disabled, but he might be glad to have those skills in his future home. 

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