The physician at the heart of the LIRR disability scandal, Peter Ajemian, is scheduled to be sentenced today in the Eastern District of New York, and chance to toy with the United States Sentencing Guidelines is too much for the government to ignore. From John Riley at Newsday :
Manhattan federal prosecutors revealed in a court filing this week that they have compiled a list of more than 800 “potential” unindicted co-conspirators in the Long Island Rail Road disability fraud scandal.
The number appeared in a sentencing memorandum on Dr. Peter Ajemian of Syosset, a doctor at the center of the scheme to collect on phony disability claims. Ajemian, who pleaded guilty, will be sentenced Friday. The government wants him to serve at least 10 years in prison.
So how do you crank up the number to reach 121 months? It’s all in the loss calculations, and the only way to get there from here is to manufacture 830 “unindicted co-conspirators” out of every Long Island Rail Road retiree on disability who was a patient of Dr. Ajemian. So what if only 32 people were actually indicted. There are hundreds more where they came from, even though there is nothing behind the allegation but a sweeping, blanket accusation.
But it also told the defense that its trial theory was that, because Ajemian was known for approving phony disabilities, all of his patients were co-conspirators, and the 830 were nothing more than his known LIRR patients.
The list came up in arguments on sentencing because Ajemian disputed the government’s claim that his fraudulent disability certifications would have cost $100 million to $200 million. He said he did not certify some of the people listed.
The government on the other hand, contends that the list of patients wasn’t used to generate loss calculations, which leaves no explanation for the existence of the list. It’s pure kismet that this huge number of “unindicted co-conspirators” coincidentally provides the foundation for the government’s sentencing calculations. What are the chances?
Is it possible that some of the individuals on this list engaged in fraud with the assistance of Peter Ajemian? Certainly. At the same time, there is no claim, nor anything remotely reflecting any factual basis, to suggest that everyone, or even the vast majority of these retirees, did not have fully legitimate disabilities.
The government has yet to go anywhere near parsing the list for evidence of individual wrongdoing. That would be much too much work, when they can just offer a laundry list and engage in facile speculation that if a retiree was certified as disabled by Ajemian, he must be dirty. The absence of logic is almost as astounding as the failure of proof.
Having contacted Peter Riley and his editor, Monica Quintanilla, to find out whether Newsday planned to release the names on the list, no answer was forthcoming. The next concern for the 830 sacrificial lambs is whether they will be publicly smeared, not for anything they’ve done but for their association with Ajemian.
Following Ajemian’s guilty plea, the government took its effort to scare the crap out of these disabled retirees a huge step further. A letter went out from the Rail Road Retirement Board, which manages the disability program, alerting them that every retiree whose disability was certified by Ajemian was being reviewed, but that Ajemian’s medical report which formed the basis for establishing the disability, would not be considered. Why? Because Ajemian was a criminal, a fraudster as he admitted in court.
Of course, he was also a physician to whom the retirees were referred by the LIRR itself, not to mention the facilitators the LIRR urges its older employees to see. So many went to Ajemian because that’s what they were urged to do. And many had disabilities and just needed a physician who knew how to do the paperwork correctly, and Ajemian was the man. It would be crazy to do otherwise, not because there was any fraud involved but because knowing how to deal with government red tape is itself a virtue.
Two days after the RRB alerted retirees of the review, the other shoe dropped. Their disability was denied. Of course it was, since there was no basis for the disability when you eliminated all the supporting paperwork. It’s not as if they offered the retirees an opportunity to provide supporting documentation from a different physician, or their surgical records from their double hip replacement, or their decade of physical therapy. Nope, two days later, before there was any chance of responding, it was a done deal. DENIED.
The wholesale absence of due process, but substantive and procedural, in this scheme to oust a generation from disability is overwhelming. Had this been done to a cop, you can bet the union would have had a cadre of lawyers beating down the courthouse doors with an action for this baseless deprivation of due process. But these were LIRR retirees, and they were left to dangle in the wind, as nobody wanted to stand up for them after they were collectively tarred and feathered in the media. So they are left to deal with a bureaucracy determined to deny them benefits on their own.
And now they learn that they’ve been made the pawns in the government’s chess game with Ajemian over sentence. They have the fear of a public outing by Newsday hanging over their heads, despite the fact that no one has ever parsed their individual circumstances to determine whether there is even the slightest taint of wrongdoing on their part. But it’s far easier to just label the bunch “unindicted co-conspirators” than actually ascertain whether any one of the 830 engaged in fraud or are men and women who gave decades of their life to work on the railroad, and now live in pain from the disabilities of a hard life on the tracks.
Who cares if we just pile on to their suffering? What comes after their benefits being baselessly and absurdly cut off and they wake up every morning in fear of the potential for a public smearing? After all, everybody hates the LIRR, so let’s take it out on every disabled retiree regardless of how honest and injured they are.