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LIRR clamps down on disability scams

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The Long Island Rail Road, reacting to hundreds of what it sees as questionable disability retirements of its employees, said all such applications will now be examined closely and all employees will undergo ethics classes.

“The time for reform is now,” said LIRR President Helena Williams last Thursday. The U.S. attorney in Manhattan, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are investigating the high number of LIRR employees who retired on disability with the Railroad Retirement Board, an obscure federal agency.

The New York Post quoted sources who said Cuomo’s office had subpoenaed records of the office of Marie Barn, former manager of the Long Island office of the Railroad Retirement Board, which provided disability pensions for many LIRR employees.

The Post also reported that the disability payments averaged $35,000 annually.

Employees were able to retire early and collect both their LIRR and federal pensions.

Williams said 98 percent of all disability applications to the Chicago−based federal agency nationwide are approved.

The New York Times, which broke the story, said retired LIRR employees had collected nearly $250,000 from the board.

Williams said she had appealed to 11 members of Congress, including U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D−N.Y.) and Hillary Clinton (D−N.Y.), for help in toughening federal laws against abuse of retirement systems.

Williams said more than 7,000 LIRR employees will attend seminars on ethics and that a committee will be established to scrutinize future applications for disability pensions.

“This high rate of approval for disability pensions is disconcerting, especially because there has been an 84 percent reduction in employee accidents since 1991,” Williams said.

Schumer said the board had provided disability claims “like candy on Halloween.”

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 136.

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