Sleeping on the job was “commonplace” at the Long Island Rail Road, thanks to “handshake agreements” between railroad management and the union, according to an admitted overtime scammer.
The attorney for Joseph Balestra, 52, claimed in new court papers that the alleged dozing was “sanctioned by often-ambiguous rules, policies and ‘handshake agreements’ between the union and LIRR management.”
“The nature of the work on many of the overnight shifts at issue required Mr. Balestra and others to perform work at the very beginning and very end of the shift, leaving a several-hour gap in the middle of the shift during which the workers had “nothing to do,” attorney Matthew Keller wrote Tuesday. “As a result, they would sometimes sleep, and claim the hours spent doing so as hours worked.”
Sleeping on the job was so standard that Balestra’s workplace had a “shack with a couch where you could sleep,” the filing in Manhattan federal court said.
Balestra, who worked as a surface foreman for the LIRR, pleaded guilty in September to raking in more than $5,000 in overtime pay as part of an elaborate scheme with other colleagues.
In 2018, he earned $348,000 from the LIRR, including $241,000 in OT after submitting timesheets for 2,954 OT hours, on top of 2,000 regular hours worked, the court filing shows. That comes out to eight hours of extra pay each day for the year.
His stepfather was vice general chairman of SMART Local 29, the LIRR’s largest union, according to the court filing.
Balestra’s co-defendants including MTA “Overtime King” Thomas Caputo, John Nugent and John Ruzzo have also pleaded guilty. A fifth defendant, Frank Pizzonia, has filed papers indicating plans to plead guilty as well.
Prosecutors said the crew used union seniority to rack up “improbable” amounts of overtime pay by landing jobs on mega-projects where they could maintain an “informal rotation” where one person would leave and the rest of the group would cover for him.
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,” according to court docs.
The men face up to 16 months in jail.
Balestra will be sentenced Jan. 4. His lawyer asked the court to lock him up for no more than 60 days, arguing that his client has suffered enough and the LIRR has taken steps to prevent future time fraud.
“Mr. Balestra deserves to be punished as an individual for what he has admitted to, rather than as a proxy for the wrong of other parties,” the filing said.
Balestra earned $348,000 from the LIRR in 2018. He was arrested in 2020 along with the other defendants 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.
MTA officials have since rolled out biometric timeclocks through the transit system to ensure workers are at work while claiming pay.
“The LIRR has no tolerance for timekeeping fraud, which is a violation of the trust the public places in employees to be honest about the work they perform,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement. “The LIRR is working to ensure that no fraudulently gained time or compensation is supplied to the pension system thereby inflating the pension.”