- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2020

Federal prosecutors Thursday charged five New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers with fraudulently collecting a combined $1.3 million in overtime while allegedly bowling, on vacation and even running a 5K race.

The defendants are four Long Island Rail Road workers and one NYC subway maintenance worker who were among the MTA’s top earners during the alleged fraud, Manhattan prosecutors said.

“These employees allegedly worked very hard — to steal MTA time and money, ignoring their duty to keep the tracks and rails safe for their fellow workers and riders. For MTA employees who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, it takes some nerve to steal overtime by only working a fraction of your shift — if at all,” MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny said in a statement.

One of the defendants, former Long Island Rail Road track inspector Thomas Caputo, 56, earned $461,000 in 2018, more than any other MTA employee, including the agency’s chairman, according to court documents.

In 2018, Mr. Caputo racked up a “physically impossible” 3,864 hours of overtime, which averages out to 10 additional hours per day, every day for 365 days, according to court filings.

Of Mr. Caputo’s total salary, $344,000 came from additional overtime.

Prosecutors said that while the overtime time clock was ticking, Mr. Caputo was participating in a bowling league, based on his phone records, emails and social media.

During one week in October, Mr. Caputo was purportedly in Manhattan working his regular eight-hour shift, followed by 15 hours of overtime, prosecutors said. But during the purported second shift, Mr. Caputo made eight phone calls from Long Island, more than 50 miles where he was supposed to be, according to court documents.

And bowling league records show that Mr. Caputo bowled three games with an average score of 196 during that alleged second shift.

Others charged in the alleged scheme were equally as brazen, prosecutors said. The other four defendants each collected more than $240,000 from New York taxpayers.

Michael Gundersen, 42, allegedly attended concerts in Atlantic City and went on multiday, out-of-state vacations while claiming to be working, court records revealed. Prosecutors say Mr. Gundersen posted photos from his family farm on social media while collecting overtime.

In September 2018, Mr. Gundersen ran a 5K race, while he was allegedly working the first of two overtime shifts that day, according to court records.

Phone records revealed Mr. Gundersen was in New Jersey for the race, while he was supposed to be in Manhattan working, prosecutors said.

Also charged Thursday were former Long Island Rail Road employees Joseph Rizzo, 56, John Nugent, 50, and Joseph Balestra, 51.

All five are charged with one count of federal program fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said all New Yorkers bear the burden of the defendants’ alleged fraud.

“These defendants, senior LIRR and New York City Transit employees, allegedly made themselves some of the highest-paid employees at the entire MTA by claiming extraordinary, almost physically impossible, amounts of overtime,” she said in a statement. “As alleged, those almost impossible claims were fueled by brazen, repeated fraud, including falsely claiming to be working overtime hours while the defendants were at their homes or, in some instances, bowling.”

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