MADISON, Wis. – As embattled whistleblowers await justice from a scandal-plagued Social Security Administration, one SSA official charged with retaliation is being held to account.
Charlie Paul Andrus, a former administrative law judge at the Huntington, West Virginia, Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), last week pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to retaliate against an informant.
In his plea agreement, Andrus admitted that he helped devise a plan to discredit an ODAR staff member who blew the whistle on an alleged scheme to bilk taxpayers out of $600 million in fraudulently approved disability benefits.
Andrus, who faces up to 10 years in prison, admitted that “he was aware that the SSA employee reported truthful information to federal investigators and that he wanted to retaliate against the employee by interfering with the employee’s employment and livelihood,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Investigations.
The informant in question? Sarah Carver, who spent years in bureaucratic hell.
Carver, a former senior case technician at the West Virginia ODAR facility, says she was ostracized, penalized and traumatized for reporting on incidents of alleged waste, fraud and abuse in the agency that handles disability claim appeals.
She also was spied on.
Carver is known only as “employee No. 1” in the federal investigation documents.
Andrus and big shot disability claims attorney Eric Conn allegedly conspired together to hire a private attorney to trail Carver and come up with “evidence” to show Carver was not doing her job.
They wanted Carver fired, according to court documents. The idea was to film the informant violating an SSA work-at-home program.
“They didn’t just follow me at home, they followed me taking my children to activities on the weekend,” Carver said. “They couldn’t get any footage of me leaving my house to do anything wrong, so they created a made-up scenario and sent it to the agency to discredit me and get me fired.”
Andrus knew that Carver and a colleague, Jennifer Griffith, were talking to the Wall Street Journal.
According to the DOJ press release, Andrus admitted that a 2011 Journal article on allegations of corruption in the ODAR office “was personally embarrassing, as it cast both him and the Huntington hearing office in a negative light.”
Because of the article and the criminal investigation, the 28-year SSA employee was demoted from his position as chief administrative law judge.
The criminal corruption investigation led to an 18-count federal indictment against Conn, former Huntington ODAR Administrative Law Judge David Black Daugherty, and psychologist Dr. Alfred Bradley Adkins. Charges include conspiracy, fraud, obstruction, false statements and money laundering.
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.”
All three men pleaded not guilty earlier this year – five years after the Wall Street Journal story first broke the news of the alleged corruption.
“One of the things that bothers me most about this whole situation is that the agency (SSA) is still yet to acknowledge that anything happened,” said Carver, who has since left her government job. “I’ve never been acknowledged as a whistleblower and they never acknowledged that I have been retaliated against.”
And so it goes at ODAR offices elsewhere, including in Madison and Milwaukee, where whistleblowers have raised concerns about corruption and cover-ups – and, they say, have been rewarded with retaliation.
Ron Klym, a Milwaukee ODAR senior case technician who brought documents showing exceptionally long wait times to Wisconsin Watchdog and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has been placed on administrative leave and his supervisors have threatened to terminate his position.
Celia Machelle Keller, a lead case technician in the Madison ODAR facility, did as she was asked and testified in an office harassment case. She in turn became the subject of an SSA Office of Inspector General investigation.
Meanwhile, whistleblowers have alleged wide-ranging corruption – from sexual harassment to nepotism to bribery – in the ODAR offices, as SSA officials repeatedly decline comment, asserting the need for privacy on personnel issues. One SSA defender recently commented that it was wrong of whistleblowers to turn over documents to the press that appear to show an administrative law judge’s grossly “inappropriate” remarks about Social Security disability claimants because doing so violated the judge’s privacy.
Sources say an investigation has been launched into the Madison office, and that some of the top officials have been either suspended or placed on leave. But the whistleblowers all ask the same question: Will there be justice? Or will it be more retaliation for the people who fulfill their oath to report waste, fraud and abuse in government?
“It seems like this is the beginning of some accountability, but there were managers, supervisors that knew this was going on that were promoted, that are still there, that are supervising the same employees,” Carver said of the West Virginia office.
She said now is the time to strike, while the focus is on the troubled agency.
“I would suggest people contact the committee,” the whistleblower said. “I think in larger numbers we could get something accomplished.”
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