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Whistleblower at scandal-plagued Social Security office seeks restraining order against manager

By   /   August 12, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 26 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – A federal employee who blew the whistle on alleged corruption and retaliation at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review on Thursday sought and received a temporary restraining order against a manager in the office.

Deborah Holland, also a manager at the ODAR facility, was granted a temporary harassment restraining order against her administrative peer, Wayne Gentz, according to Dane County Court documents. An injunction hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 19.

Holland, who has agreed to go public with her story, claims Gentz, Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz, and chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum have repeatedly harassed and retaliated against her since she filed a misconduct complaint a year ago and took on the mantle of whistleblower.

Holland and whistleblowers allege there is a culture of corruption and cover-up at the Madison office, which reviews Social Security benefits claims.

She said Gentz has a “lengthy history of aggressive behavior” toward her and ODAR staff members.

“I have worked with him for almost nine years. He owns firearms and he has threatened to bring them in to the office and use them on employees,” Holland said. She has provided federal agents with emails and other documents that she says back her claims about Gentz’s threatening conduct. She provided an investigative document accusing Gentz of making a threat of violence against an employee who had filed a harassment complaint and was granted an Equal Employment Opportunity hearing. In another case, according to the document, Gentz made threatening comments about bringing in a knife and a gun to “use on” an ODAR employee he was angry at.

Photo contributed

WHISTLEBLOWER GOES PUBLIC: Deborah Holland, a manager at the Madison ODAR, has been trying to shed light on allegations of corruption and retaliation at the federal agency for more than a year. On Thursday, she went public with her claims.

In her report to the agency’s Safety Team, Holland said that, “Wayne owns a fair number of firearms, and he will name the weapon and then make a statement about bringing it in to use when he is really upset with someone.”

Holland said her complaints about Gentz have mostly been ignored or laughed off by ODAR supervisors and administrators at the Social Security Administration’s Region 5 headquarters in Chicago. Gentz, according to multiple sources, was previously investigated on allegations of aggressive behavior at the Phoenix ODAR operations. He was accused of aggressively confronting an administrative law judge he had a disagreement with.

Gentz and Hodorwicz also like to pull out their “voodoo dolls” to make a point about what they’d like to do to “certain employees,” Holland wrote in her federal complaints.

“They use them to represent employees in the Madison office and regional office,” Holland wrote. “When I came back in October, (Wayne) had gotten a new doll that was clearly meant to represent me. Wayne took the doll and punched it over and over again. Laura was just sitting there, and they both laughed.”

Gentz could not be reached at his Madison-area home Thursday evening. He has not returned Wisconsin Watchdog’s messages left on his cellphone. Reached previously on her cellphone, Hodorowicz told Wisconsin Watchdog never to call her again.

An SSA spokesman repeatedly has said the agency cannot speak to personnel issues but that it does not tolerate harassment or retaliation in the workplace.

Holland said she received another round of harassing emails Thursday, beginning with Meachum, demanding information.

In an email to Holland, Hodorowicz and Gentz, Meachum wanted to know whether any of the managers violated her order not to talk about discussions concerning Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, who is being investigated on sexual harassment and other misconduct allegations.

“At our Madison management meeting on Tuesday, we had a discussion about Judge Pleuss and his cases, and I requested that the information be kept confidential and only shared among us,” Meachum wrote. “Since our meeting on August 9th, did any of you share any of this information with someone outside the Madison management team?  Again, I am talking specifically about the discussion we had last Tuesday afternoon about Judge Pleuss and his cases. Please respond immediately – yes or no.”

Wisconsin Watchdog on Wednesday reported that the regional SSA office needs “Pleuss’s permission” to reassign his hearings to someone else, according to an internal email.

RELATED: Social Security judge accused of misconduct refuses to step down, sources say

Pleuss told Meachum that he plans to resume holding hearings on Aug. 30, as scheduled, an ODAR employee close to the situation told Wisconsin Watchdog.

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in June, Pleuss in his notes to legal assistants described claimants as “attractive,” “innocent-looking,” “buxom.” In one case, he noted a “young, white (woman)”appearing before him “looks like a man.”

“Very black, African looking (female),” the judge wrote, and parenthetically he added,“(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”

In other “writing obstructions” penned by Pleuss to his legal assistants, the judge noted he was approving a female claimant’s appeal for disability payments because “she looks like she was ‘rode hard and put away wet.’”

Pleuss is accused of deciding cases based on the physical appearance of claimants.

Even as SSA’s Office of Inspector General conducts an investigation of misconduct, corruption, harassment and retaliation in the Madison and Milwaukee offices, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds an inquiry into ODAR manager conduct, the schedule shows Pleuss set to hear dozens of cases in September, Wisconsin Watchdog reported last week.

In a report to the Safety Team, Holland claimed Meachum accosted her in the bathroom to “once again demand I disclose confidential investigative information.”

In her response to Meachum’s email Thursday, Holland told the chief administrative law judge that her “repeated demands for confidential information constitutes harassment.”

“It also demonstrates a hostile attitude on your part towards me for being a whistleblower. If something in the multiple statements I have made to you regarding this topic is somehow unclear, let me explain once again: stop asking me for confidential investigative information. I am not going to disclose it.” Holland wrote.

Meachum responded the she was not seeking confidential information.

The whistleblower claims she and other employees who have stood up to management have been punished or called “crazy” or “paranoid,” while Hodorowicz and Gentz in particular have “either bought off or threatened” employees into silence. Holland alleges the corruption goes all the way to the top.

“They have created this fantasy land where they brag about being ‘untouchable’ because of the protection they have above them. They really do think they are above the law,” Holland said. “What they don’t know is that already in the hands of the Inspector General, the Senate Committee and Sen. (Ron) Johnson and Sen. (Tammy Baldwin) is irrefutable proof of quite a bit that’s going on.”

“The commitment of the whistleblowers is to see the Madison office become law-and policy-compliant,” she added. “That is what we are fighting for because the employees, the claimants and the taxpayers deserve that.”

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.