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United States v. Rutigliano

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

June 22, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JOSEPH RUTIGLIANO, PETER J. LESNIEWSKI, MARIE BARAN, Defendants-Appellants. [*]

Argued: March 26, 2015.

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Joseph Rutigliano, Peter J. Lesniewski, and Marie Baran appeal from judgments of conviction entered, following a jury trial, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Marrero, J.). The defendants were convicted of (variously) conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and health care fraud, as well as substantive counts of these offenses, and one count of making false statements, for their roles in a decades-long scheme to defraud the United States Railroad Retirement Board into awarding fraudulent disability annuity payments to Long Island Railroad retirees.

We conclude that the government presented sufficient evidence as to venue, that defendants cannot succeed on a theory that venue was improperly manufactured, and that no " substantial contacts" inquiry is required where (as here) the defendants did not argue to the district court that prosecution in the Southern District of New York caused them hardship, prejudice, or otherwise undermined the fairness of their trial. Rutigliano argues that he was prosecuted outside the statute of limitations period. We apply the ordinary rule that the receipt of profits from an economically motivated conspiracy (here, disability pension payments) constitutes an overt act in furtherance thereof, and reject application to this case of the limited exception, articulated in United States v. Grimm, 738 F.3d 498 (2d Cir. 2013). And, we reject defendants' challenges to the jury instructions, which we conclude were proper.

All of the other challenges raised by the defendants are considered and rejected in a summary order issued simultaneously with this opinion.

For the following reasons, and those stated in the summary order, we affirm the judgments of conviction.

JOSEPH W. RYAN, JR., Melville, New York, for Appellant Rutigliano.

JOHN D. CLINE, San Francisco, California, for Appellant Lesniewski.

ANNE J. D'ELIA, Kew Gardens, New York, for Appellant Baran.

DANIEL B. TEHRANI (with Nicole Friedlander and Michael A. Levy, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, for Appellee.

Before: JACOBS and CHIN, Circuit Judges, and WOLFORD, District Judge.[**]

OPINION

Page 393

DENNIS JACOBS, Circuit Judge:

The Long Island Railroad (" LIRR" ) pension plan allows employees with 20 years or more of service to retire at age 50 with a pension equal to half of their pre-retirement income. Many LIRR employees doubled their pensions by making false disability claims to the Railroad Retirement Board (" RRB" ) at the time of their planned retirement.

For their roles in criminally exploiting these overlapping benefits, defendants Joseph Rutigliano, a former LIRR conductor and president of the union local, Peter J. Lesniewski, an orthopedic physician, and Marie Baran, a former RRB employee, were convicted by a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Marrero, J.) of (variously) conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and health care fraud, as well as substantive counts of these offenses, and one count of making false statements.

On appeal, defendants raise a host of challenges. We hold that venue was proper, that defendants cannot succeed on a theory of manufactured venue, and that no " substantial contacts" inquiry is required where (as here) the defendants did not argue that prosecution in the Southern District of New York caused them hardship, prejudice, or otherwise undermined the fairness of their trial.

We reject Rutigliano's contention that he was prosecuted for conduct outside the statute of limitations period. We apply the ordinary rule that the receipt of profits from an economically motivated conspiracy (here, disability pension payments) constitutes an overt act in furtherance thereof, and reject the argument that the limited exception articulated in United States v. Grimm, 738 F.3d 498 (2d Cir. 2013), applies in this case.

We conclude that the defendants' claims of error with respect to the jury instructions given on the conspiracy charge, and on the meaning of " occupational disability" are without merit.

All of the other challenges raised by the defendants are considered and rejected in a summary order issued simultaneously with this opinion.

We affirm the judgments of conviction.

BACKGROUND

At trial, the government presented evidence that employees who were fit, steady, and faultless in attendance schemed to create a " paper trail" for the onset of disabilities at the hour they were ready to retire from employment by the LIRR. See, e.g., Trial Tr. at 168-72, 344, 375-76, United States v. Rutigliano, No. 11-cr-1091, (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (" Trial Tr." ). These employees, with the assistance of Rutigliano and Baran, pre-planned their false claims of occupational disability by visiting go-to doctors, like Lesniewski.

Page 394

In addition to obtaining his own fraudulent disability benefits, Rutigliano helped other LIRR employees make false claims of disability, charging " around a thousand dollars" per application. Id. at 475, 486, 499. The jury heard testimony from cooperating witnesses who submitted false applications for disability benefits; one testified that it was " common knowledge and openly discussed that you could pay particular people, including . . . Rutigliano [] to complete the[] disability applications[,] filling them with lies." See, e.g., id. at 171, 325-26, 477, 680, 821, 943, 2647. Another witness testified that he paid Rutigliano $1,000 to complete his application because he knew Rutigliano would " say whatever needed to be said to get [him] the disability money that he wanted." Id. at 2647.

In providing these supposed " consulting" services, Rutigliano did not endeavor to find out if the applicants were actually disabled in any way. Id. at 498-99. Rather, he filled out the applications, often without consultation with the employee, with representations he knew to be requisite for obtaining a disability pension. Id. at 520. At trial, an auditor identified applications prepared by Rutigliano based on the use of the same boilerplate language to describe individual afflictions of many retirees. Id. at 1557-66, 1721-25.

Baran's husband, Gus--a former LIRR employee and unindicted coconspirator--obtained a fraudulent disability pension with the assistance of Lesniewski. Id. at 1292-94. Baran learned the ropes from her husband, and when she retired from the RRB, came to be known (like Rutigliano) as a " facilitator" of fraudulent disability benefit applications. Id. at 1113-14, 1594-1610. Baran filled out the fraudulent applications with little input from her clients; advised them on how to answer questions from the RRB; and gave them pointers on how to avoid suspicion by, for example, continuing to visit doctors after submitting their disability applications. Id. at 842-51, 1217-23. Baran, who testified in her own defense at trial, maintained that she filled out the disability applications in good faith, based on information provided by clients and their treating physicians. See id., e.g., at 2270-71. Baran's clients, however, testified that Baran filled out and submitted on their behalf fabricated applications for benefits that bore no resemblance to their physical conditions. Id. at 855-56, 1286.

As one of the go-to doctors, Lesniewski provided medical narratives to LIRR employees designed to convince the RRB that these employees had occupational disabilities--even though these employees were working at the time they consulted with Lesniewski (and Lesniewski never asked them whether they were able to continue to perform their jobs). Id. at 188-89, 192-93, 377-86. Lesniewski submitted medical reports to the RRB recommending hundreds of LIRR workers for fraudulent disability benefits, and charged $850 per narrative. See id. at 52.

As to venue, Lesniewski and others submitted insurance claims (by wire) to a health insurance company in the Southern District of New York for the purpose of supporting fraudulent disability claims. Clients of Rutigliano and Baran visited doctors in the Southern District (and elsewhere) to support their fraudulent applications. And when the RRB requested re-certification of the disabilities that ostensibly entitled the coconspirators to continuing benefits, ...


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