NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A new report says more than half the Long Island Rail Road workers who retired last year claimed they were disabled on the job and were thereby entitled to a bigger pension.
The New York Times reports that nearly all those claims were approved. That rate is much higher than in any other U.S. railroad system.
Federal prosecutors charged 11 people on Thursday with conspiracy in a decade-long fraud that authorities say poisoned the pension system used by employees of the nation’s largest commuter railroad. Authorities say some employees paid off doctors to say they couldn’t work.
The FBI said the fraud could cost more than $1 billion and promised more arrests.
The investigation was opened after The Times reported in 2008 that almost all LIRR workers were being declared disabled upon retirement.
CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan followed up on the alleged scammers who have already been charged.
Dr. Peter Ajemian may have a “clear conscience” about pocketing $2.2 million in fees from hundreds of LIRR disability patients, according to the FBI. He was apparently living in the lap of luxury in his Laurel Hollow estate.
Ajemian’s office manager, Maria Rusin, who the feds said helped facilitate the scheme, may have had second thoughts and actually collapsed in court on Thursday.
“I’m glad they caught them. Hope they catch more of them. Anybody that’s a crook deserves to be going to jail,” Patricia Heavy, a neighbor of one of the suspects, told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.
Dr. Peter Lesniewski, with offices in Plainview, is accused of raking in $750,000 from the bogus scheme. He has a beautiful Rockville Centre home and neighbors say he loves to travel.
“Even your neighbors, no matter who they are, doctors have to lose their licenses when they do that,” neighbor Ronald Gallas said.
The U.S. Attorney charges the doctors ran “disability fraud mills” to “pad patients files” with false reports paid in cash for each fake “disability diagnosis.”
“I believe they were gaming the system and it is the responsibility of the Long Island Rail Road, and it has been my responsibility since 2008 to change the culture at this railroad,” LIRR President Helena Williams said.
As other government agencies slash services, layoff cops and teachers, McLogan wanted to ask the railroad retirement board if it’s changing its polices, but it had no comment.
“What happened to the ones that were really disabled. Maybe they were denied this disability because they didn’t have the right kind of crooked doctor,” said LIRR commuter Neleeda Reed.
The FBI has reiterated to anyone cheating the system “for those of you who choose not to contact us, there’s a good chance we’ll be contacting you.”
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