Crime Watch

Ex-fire dep't leader sentenced to three years in LIRR fraud case


Michael Costanza, 60, of North Merrick, a retired Long Island Rail Road transportation manager and former North Merrick Fire Department commissioner, was sentenced Tuesday to a three-year term in federal prison for making fraudulent disability claims and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in undeserved government benefits.

A federal jury last fall convicted Costanza of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud after a two-week trial and three days of deliberation. Costanza’s lawyer, Peter Tomao, argued during the trial that Costanza’s disability claims were legitimate. The government built its case that the claims were bogus around Costanza’s golfing and firefighting activities.

Judge Kimba Wood handed down the sentence, which includes three years of supervised release following the prison term, on Tuesday afternoon in a Manhattan federal court. She was apparently unmoved by Tomao’s contention, in a presentencing filing, that Costanza was being punished for his community service in the fire department.

“The evidence at trial did not present anything about Michael Costanza’s actions regarding his disability claim which distinguished him from the hundreds of others who engaged in the same conduct, other than his service in the North Merrick Volunteer Fire Department,” the filing said. “It is ironic that his community service led to his conviction.”

The defense’s presentencing filing included letters from family, friends, police officers, firefighters and a local elected leader praising Costanza’s character. It contained no admissions of guilt or apologies.

“He did what hundreds of fellow workers at the [LIRR] did, he used a provision in his contract which allowed him to retire at age 50 after working for 25 years and applied for disability benefits,” stated Tomao’s memorandum.

Federal prosecutors contended in their presentencing filing that Costanza acted out of “pure greed.”

“Costanza submitted a blatantly false disability application … because he wanted to retire early and the federal government foot the bill,” prosecutors wrote. “It is plain from his sentencing submission that Costanza feels no remorse.”

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