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Sunday, November 28, 2021

MTA ‘Overtime King’ Thomas Caputo scammed LIRR mega-projects

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MTA “Overtime King” Thomas Caputo and four charged co-conspirators raked in “improbable” amounts of OT pay by using union seniority to land jobs on mega-projects where they could get away with sleeping or playing hooky out of view of Long Island Rail Road management, federal prosecutors said.

Caputo and company signed up for shifts that called for more workers than necessary, then developed an “informal rotation” where one person would leave and the rest of the group would cover for him, the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office said in court filings ahead of the sentencing of conspirator John Nugent this Thursday.

“For a number of these shifts, there were circumstances in which the employees could sleep while on the job site without halting construction work, perhaps partially accounting for the almost physically impossible number of hours claimed by the conspirators,” prosecutors said.

The jobs were mostly on two projects, the filings 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.

Joseph Balestra in the Manhattan Federal Court lobby
Joseph Balestra has pleaded guilty to conspiracy. He faces up to 16 months in jail.
Robert Mecea for NY Post

Both projects “had several positions where more LIRR employees were assigned than were necessary to allow the construction to progress,” prosecutors said.

As a track foreman, Nugent approved his own timecards. LIRR officials at the time had no way to verify the men’s hours, according to the filing — allowing them to claim “truly extraordinary” numbers of hours that “stretched the bounds of the physically possible.”

John Nugent
Nugent was the 11th-highest-paid employee of the MTA, surpassing the CEO.
Gabriella Bass for NY Post

The men were able to sign up for the jobs because of their seniority, which doubly served as an incentive for them to pad their pensions, which are calculated based on their late-career salaries.

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. Prosecutors were able to use cellphone data to prove he was absent for 420 claimed hours worth $34,094.

His attorney did not return a request for comment.

Of the five defendants, Caputo, Nugent and Joseph Balestra have all pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge, but have not been sentenced. They face up to 16 months in jail.

The men were able to sign up for LIRR mega-projects because of their seniority.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

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.

In a series of stories in 2019, The Post reported Caputo reigned as the MTA’s “Overtime King,” who raked in $344,147 in extra income in 2018.

The gargantuan paycheck makes Caputo the “most culpable participants in the conspiracy by a significant margin,” the pre-sentencing document against Nugent said.

“A number of potential witnesses the Government credits describe Caputo’s fraud as more frequent and brazen than any of the other defendants,” prosecutors said.

MTA workers next to LIRR train
Overstaffed LIRR mega-projects allowed the conspirators to cover for each other while they slept.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

Among those charged with Caputo was Frank Pizzonia, a Queens resident and son of notorious Gambino family hitman Dominick “Skinny Dom” Pizzonia. He and defendant Frank Ruzzo have both pleaded not guilty.

The MTA upgraded from paper timekeeping to modern Kronos timeclocks after Caputo’s wages were exposed in 2019 — though many of its departments remain reliant on “honor systems” to monitor spending, according to the MTA IG.

MTA rep Aaron Donovan said the new controls are in place for LIRR track foremen.

“The MTA takes theft of time and falsification of filing allegations very seriously because stealing hard-earned taxpayer dollars is outrageous and against the values of the MTA and New York State,” Donovan said in a statement. “All LIRR track foremen are now required to use the Kronos system to punch in every day.”

Additional reporting by Ben Feuerherd



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