Defendants Were Reportedly Set To Go On Trial Monday

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two more Long Island Rail Road retirees pleaded guilty to charges of disability fraud just as before their trial was set to begin, according to a published report.

Former conductor Thomas Coscetta, 62, and dispatcher Kevin Neville, 56, could each be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the Federal Railroad Retirement Board, according to a New York Daily News report.

They were set to go on trial in U.S. District Court Monday, the newspaper reported.

Jury selection also began Monday for the last two remaining defendants – Michael Costanza, 62, and Frederick Catalan, 52. Prosecutors said each allegedly claimed disability from the LIRR, but Costanza was really working as a firefighter and Catalan was training for a fifth-degree black belt in jiujistu, the newspaper reported.

Last month, a doctor – orthopedist Peter Lesniewski – and retiree consultants Marie Baran and Joseph Rutigliano – were each convicted of participating in the scheme.

The three “served as engines of this fraud that led to a staggering 79 percent of LIRR retirees from 1998 to 2011 receiving federal disability benefits, costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars”’ the U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors called Lesniewski the “go-to” doctor for diagnosing fake ailments that he never treated. They alleged that Baran had made hundreds of thousands of dollars by filling out “cookie cutter” disability applications containing false information. Jurors heard evidence that Rutigliano had collected $409,000 in benefits by claiming it was difficult for him to grip a pen. Prosecutors said he became a regular golfer in retirement.

Earlier this year, another doctor was sentenced to eight years in prison for falsely recommending that hundreds of LIRR employees receive disability benefits. He also was ordered to pay $116.5 million in restitution.

Dr. Peter Ajemian, an orthopedist with a practice in Rockville Centre, pleaded guilty in January to taking part in the scheme.

He admitted to helping at least 734 employees falsely claim they were unable to work, in order to collect disability pensions from the Federal Railroad Retirement Board on top of their LIRR pensions.

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