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Social Security appeals judge pleads guilty to retaliation charge

By   /   June 22, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 18 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

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.

AP file photo

CORRUPTION CASE: Attorney Eric C. Conn (left) and Administrative Law Judge Charlie Paul Andrus are accused of scheming together in an attempt to discredit a Social Security Administration whistleblower. The two men are seen here testifying before a congressional committee.

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.

RELATED: Social Security disability agency has history of punishing whistleblowers

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.”

Part of 61 in the series Deadly Delays
  1. Deadly Delay: Whistleblower alleges misconduct, incompetence in Social Security office
  2. Johnson seeks answers to Social Security whistleblower’s charges
  3. Social Security disability program has plenty of problems elsewhere
  4. Social Security whistleblower placed on administrative leave
  5. Social Security disability agency has history of punishing whistleblowers
  6. Senator to Social Security Administration official: ‘I would say the system is rigged’
  7. Whistleblower: ‘I want to do my work without fear of retaliation’
  8. Social Security whistleblowers ‘coming out of the woodwork’
  9. Social Security whistleblower suspended after going public with complaints
  10. Social Security whistleblower questioned by investigators after going public
  11. Social Security whistleblower now faces firing
  12. Social Security officials not answering questions about whistleblower retaliation
  13. ‘Culture of corruption and cover-up’ alleged in Madison Social Security office
  14. Ron Johnson: We’re tracking down abuse allegations in Social Security agency
  15. Senate committee presses for answers from troubled Social Security Administration
  16. Sources: Social Security judge suspended in wake of Madison scandal
  17. Attorney seeks appeal of decisions by Social Security judge accused of ‘sexy’ comments
  18. Social Security appeals judge pleads guilty to retaliation charge
  19. More retaliation despite investigation, Social Security office sources say
  20. Openly gay whistleblower at Social Security office claims intimidation, retaliation
  21. Wheels of justice turn frustratingly slow for Social Security whistleblowers
  22. Baldwin joins Johnson in calling for ‘immediate action’ on Social Security misconduct claims
  23. Documents: Social Security judge wrote claimant was ‘rode hard and put away wet’
  24. Social Security judge investigated for harassment heading back to hearings
  25. Social Security judge accused of misconduct refuses to step aside, sources say
  26. Whistleblower at scandal-plagued Social Security office seeks restraining order against manager
  27. Whistleblower report alleges widespread waste, fraud, abuse at Social Security office
  28. Sen. Johnson to Social Security commissioner: Retaliation will not be tolerated
  29. Baldwin warns Social Security Administration not to retaliate
  30. Social Security Administration fires whistleblower
  31. Who is protecting Social Security whistleblowers?
  32. Sources: Social Security judge accused of racial, sexual remarks removed from hearings
  33. Social Security office director removed from Madison facility, sources say
  34. Senate committee probe into Social Security whistleblower retaliation continues
  35. Madison Social Security office like ‘giant dysfunctional family,’ source says
  36. Damage spreads at scandal-plagued Social Security office
  37. Fired Social Security whistleblower gets no help from federal whistleblower protector
  38. One month later, Social Security whistleblower still without job, pay, answers
  39. Federal agents stepping up investigation into troubled Social Security offices
  40. Investigation into troubled Social Security offices in a ‘holding pattern’
  41. Recent weeks bring shake-up at scandal-plagued Social Security offices
  42. Top judges resign at troubled Social Security Chicago headquarters
  43. Social Security chief judge retiring amid cloud of scandal
  44. Troubled Social Security disability claims agency promotes ‘positive organization culture’
  45. Senate inquiry into scandal-plagued Social Security offices plods along
  46. Social Security whistleblower: ‘Everything has been compromised’
  47. Sources: Social Security judge accused of sexual harassment removed from Madison office
  48. Fired Social Security whistleblower won’t be taking whistleblower protection training
  49. Letter: Social Security judge under fire granted power to decide
  50. Sources: Social Security judge accused of deciding cases on sex appeal retires
  51. Johnson seeks GAO review of alleged Social Security ‘shell game’
  52. Social Security judge demanded $65,000 expanded bathrooms
  53. Investigation finds abuse, law-breaking, no retaliation at Madison Social Security office
  54. Report: Social Security managers gambled, watched Packers at Lambeau on taxpayer dime
  55. Inspector General releases major findings of probe into troubled Social Security office
  56. Social Security whistleblower waiting for answers in privacy breach case
  57. A whistleblower’s story: Paying the price for shining a light
  58. Fired SSA employee featured in Watchdog investigation is ‘Whistleblower of the Year’
  59. Social Security whistleblower calls out agency, media in receiving award from journalists
  60. SSA whistleblowers ask, where’s the justice?
  61. Probes into troubled Social Security offices crawling along

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.