Former Long Island Rail Road track foreman John Nugent — who conspired with coworkers to skip work, collect pay and cover for each others’ absences — was sentenced to five months in prison on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors used cell phone data to pin 420 fraudulently-earned hours — worth $34,094 — on Nugent, the first of five accused conspirators to be sentenced.
Nugent’s $350,000 salary — including $242,000 in OT — made him the MTA’s 11th-highest-paid employee that year, ahead of the authority’s CEO.
Two other alleged conspirators, “Overtime King” Thomas Caputo and Joseph Balestra, have also pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy. Defendants Frank Pizzonia and Frank Ruzzo pleaded not guilty.
The crew were arrested by the feds last year after law enforcement investigators uncovered the overtime conspiracy with help from the MTA Inspector General’s Office.
Prosecutors accused the men of developing an “informal rotation” where one person would leave and the rest of the group would cover for him, according to court filings.
Nugent, the group’s foreman, approved his and his co-conspirators’ timesheets. LIRR officials had no other way to verify the men’s hours — allowing them to claim “truly extraordinary” numbers of hours that “stretched the bounds of the physically possible.”
The jobs were mostly on two projects, prosecutors said — a private construction project at Hudson Yards in Manhattan that required LIRR supervision, and Queens track work connected to the MTA’s disastrously delayed $11 billion East Side Access project.
Both projects “had several positions where more LIRR employees were assigned than were necessary to allow the construction to progress,” prosecutors said earlier this week.
Attorney William Wexler has asked that Nugent get five months house arrest. Judge Paul Engelmeyer served him five months in custody plus another five under house arrest.
“He admitted his guilt and the judge meted out punishment that he thought was appropriate,” said Wexler.
Nugent resigned from the LIRR in January and was not yet eligible to receive a pension, according to the MTA.
“This sentencing underscores the seriousness of fraud against the taxpayers and is why we have put new protocols in place to minimize it,” said transportation authority spokesman Aaron Donovan. “The new leadership at the MTA will work with our labor partners to build off of recently implemented measures that have resulting in annual overtime expenditures dropping by hundreds of millions of dollars despite the historic amount of work being completed.”