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Monday, September 1, 2014
N. Merrick F.D. commish convicted in LIRR fraud case
(Page 2 of 2)
Michael Costanza, 60, a Merrick resident, retired LIRR transportation manager and a commissioner of the North Merrick Fire Department, was convicted of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud for making false statements to the federal Railroad Retirement Board claiming that he had become disabled on the job. Costanza drew tens of thousands of dollars in disability payments.

In his disability application, Costanza claimed to have “severe neck, back, carpal tunnel and right knee pain” and “right shoulder and left ankle problems,” according to the affidavit of Adam Suits, a special agent in the RRB’s Office of the Inspector General.

“I cannot sit for long periods while I do my office work or view station TV monitors,” Suits swore Costanza wrote in his disability application. “I can no longer physically work on moving trains and locomotives, walk up and down track embankments, walk on track beds through yards and tunnels … Other duties such as cranking on hand brakes, coupling and uncoupling equipment … [are] impossible for me to accomplish.”

Suits stated that in 2002 Costanza submitted a “pension estimate” approximating that he would retire in September 2003. Costanza retired in December 2003 and then, according to Suits, claimed in January 2004 that disability began to affect his work in March 2003 and rendered him incapable of working by late November 2003, a week before his retirement.

But David Ward, the North Merrick Fire Department’s district clerk, testified at trial that in the 23 years he has known Costanza, he observed his physical condition to be “good,” and never knew Costanza to complain of a disability. Ward testified that Costanza passed yearly physicals from 2004 to 2011 to maintain his status as a “class A” firefighter who is qualified to enter burning buildings.

Ward also testified that Costanza served as a fire engine and ambulance driver, going on dozens of emergency calls per year. As a driver, Costanza would be responsible on an emergency call for lifting fire hoses down from the fire engine and connecting them to the side or front of the vehicle.

“Does the engine driver have to be able to drag 200 to 300 pounds of hose up to 40 to 60 feet?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Imperatore asked Ward.

“Yes,” Ward answered.

Ward also testified that between 2005 and 2011, Costanza completed a yearly training exercise that involved crawling through a dark obstacle course with a 20- to 30-pound air pack on his back and passing through openings 14 to 36 inches in height.

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