MADISON, Wis. – There’s a corruption odor at ODAR, a whistleblower tells Wisconsin Watchdog.
Ron Klym asserts the various problems he has documented at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review are just a small part of a Social Security Administration system bogged down with incompetence and misconduct.
Case in point, the story of former West Virginia Administrative Law Judge David B. Daugherty.
In April, Daugherty, disability attorney Eric Conn, and psychologist, Dr. Alfred Bradley Adkins, appeared in court on an 18-count indictment.
Federal attorneys allege the three men worked a scheme to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in Social Security disability payments for thousands of applicants.
Daugherty, according to WSAZ in Lexington, Ky., was arrested April 5 at his home in South Carolina, five years after the Wall Street Journal brought to light the judge’s generous benefits approval record.
All three men pleaded not guilty. Daugherty is free on a $50,000 signature bond.
In the fiscal year that ended in September 2010, Daugherty, who presided over the “impoverished intersection of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio, decided 1,284 cases and awarded benefits in all but four,” the Journal reported.
In West Virginia overall, only about 38 percent of cases are approved, according to the latest SSA numbers.
The national average is 44 percent.
“(Daugherty) has maintained his near-perfect record despite years of complaints from other judges and staff members. They say he awards benefits too generously and takes cases from other judges without their permission,” according to the Wall Street Journal piece.
He’s expected back in court later this month. The administrative law judge retired following the 2011 Wall Street Journal story.
Daugherty, Conn, and Adkins face charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. Daugherty also is charged with money laundering.
Conn is charged with multiple offenses, including making false statements, money laundering, destruction of evidence, and retaliating against a witness.
The three men allegedly bilked the disability benefits programs out of more than $600 million, according to the federal indictment.
Conn, who advertised himself as “Mr. Social Security,” falsified medical documents “to make his clients appear disabled and paid Adkins and other doctors $300 to $450 a piece to sign completed evaluations supporting his clients’ appeals, according to the indictment, as reported by the Lexington Herald Leader. “Inside the Social Security bureaucracy, Daugherty arranged for Conn’s appeals to be assigned to him, collecting $9,000 to $9,500 every month from the lawyer in exchange for guaranteed approvals, according to the indictment.”
“I hope these guys rot in jail for stealing money we didn’t have on behalf of people who weren’t really proven to be disabled,” former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who led a 2013 Senate investigation into Conn’s and Daugherty’s working relationship, told the newspaper. “The claimants in this case were not innocent. They knew a scam was going on. Some of them may actually be disabled, but they got themselves a shyster lawyer.”
In the case of the Milwaukee disability benefits review office, Klym says he is being retaliated against for going to management, then lawmakers, and finally Wisconsin Watchdog with documents showing extremely long wait times for applicants.
In portions of northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, claimants have waited more than 900 days for the appeals process to conclude.
Beyond the delays is what Klym calls the “shell game,” the wholesale transferring of cases to other parts of the country by administrators to make the Milwaukee office’s numbers look better than they are.
Klym said he has paid the price for blowing the whistle.
Emails show the legal assistant was expected to carry a greater workload than his colleagues. He was assigned additional work and given what he described as unreasonable case deadlines in the wake of his complaints to management.
“(I)t appears Mr. Pelot is in his actions and directives, retaliating against an employee who contacted a member of the United States Senate,” Klym wrote to in a letter to Deborah Giesen, regional attorney at the Social Security Administration in Chicago. Klym referred to Trevor Pelot, supervisor of the Milwaukee ODAR office.
“As I am the employee who made allegations with regards to over 500 civil rights violations, under Trevor Pelot’s direction of dockets in Milwaukee, retaliatory action is quite conceivable,” Klym wrote.
Reached at the Milwaukee office Monday, Pelot referred Wisconsin Watchdog’s questions to SSA public affairs officials.
Pelot, the supervisor of the ODAR office’s dockets, whose name is on the backlog reports and the case transfers, has been promoted to office director. He began his new post on Monday, according to Klym.
Klym said he believes the promotion was a reward for artificially improving the Milwaukee office’s disposition rates.
Meanwhile, Klym has been suspended for alleged conduct issues, including 10 days last September for destruction of agency property. He was accused of breaking his workstation keyboard. Klym said the flimsy equipment fell onto the floor and broke apart.
He said within 18 hours of his email to the SSA attorney about the case backlogs, two inspector general officers “were investigating me over a broken computer.”
Klym was at home in his pool when the agents came calling.
“They took me out of my pool and asked me questions for an hour and a half, and they requested to search my apartment,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, is looking into the allegations, according to a committee staff member.
Sarah Carver, one of two case technicians at the West Virginia SSA office who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Conn, Adkins, Daugherty and others in 2011, alleging benefits fraud, told the Lexington newspaper the indictments aren’t enough.
“My main concern is whether the SSA will finally acknowledge the fraud and hold accountable the managers who had knowledge of it for years,” Carver said. “Some of those managers were allowed to retire with their full benefits. Others were actually promoted to higher positions.”
The Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General said the agency is “committed to pursuing those who violate the public trust by conspiring to misrepresent disabling conditions to defraud not only Social Security, but all American taxpayers.”
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