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3 more LIRR disability fraudsters avoid prison
Three more Long Island Rail Road fraudsters -- including two who also committed perjury -- avoided prison time at sentencings on Friday because they cooperated with the government in pursuing colleagues after they were caught.
Retired LIRR car repairman Franklin Plaia, 57, of Hicksville, engineer Michael Dasaro, 59, of Oakdale, and electrician Michael Stavola, 56, of Massapequa Park, were all given probation with brief periods of home confinement at hearings in federal court in Manhattan.
Of 33 doctors, consultants and retirees charged and convicted of collecting on fake disability claims to the federal Railroad Retirement Board, 18 have now gotten probation, nine have been given prison terms, and six have yet to be sentenced.
No one who cooperated with the prosecution in hopes of getting leniency has been sentenced to a day in prison. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero said Friday that Plaia, Dasaro and Stavola each deserved credit for "substantial" assistance to the government.
The government has alleged that hundreds of LIRR workers, aided by three corrupt doctors and a few consultants, conspired to supplement early retirement with phony disability claims and were on their way to stealing $1 billion when the fraud was stopped.
Stavola, who pleaded guilty to perjury as well as fraud and conspiracy, retired in 2008, claiming it was hard for him to sit, stand, bathe or walk, and "impossible" for him to do outdoor chores. But he allegedly golfed two to three times a week, biked and worked out.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for him to get 33 to 41 months, but prosecutors said he deserved special credit because he appeared as a prosecution witness at two trials. Marrero ordered him to repay $160,000 he stole and serve 3 months of house arrest.
"I'm ashamed," Stavola told the judge. " . . . I fell into the belief it can't be wrong if everyone is doing it. But I should have been honest with myself." He declined to comment leaving court and cursed at a reporter.Plaia, who also pleaded guilty to perjury as well as fraud, claimed he had disabling neck, back, shoulder and carpal tunnel pain that made it hard to stand or perform chores when he retired in 2007. But he allegedly shoveled snow and golfed in retirement.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for him to serve 33 to 41 months in prison. Marrero ordered him to serve 6 months of home confinement and repay $266,637.
"I'm sorry for these crimes I've committed," Plaia told the judge. "It's been a devastating blow." He declined to comment after the hearing.Dasaro retired in 2006 and got his disability approved in 2007, claiming back, neck and leg pain that made it hard for him to sit, stand, perform chores, drive, read or write. He then went to work for a company that delivered tents, chairs and tables for events.
He did not commit perjury, and federal sentencing guidelines called for him to get 21 to 27 months in prison. Marrero imposed 2 months of house arrest and restitution of $234,000.
"I'd like to apologize to the court and my family," Dasaro told the judge. He, too, declined to comment after he was sentenced.