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Whistleblower report alleges widespread waste, fraud, abuse at Social Security office

By   /   August 15, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 27 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – A whistleblower’s report to the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration details a dysfunctional federal office in Madison drowning in waste, fraud and abuse.

The report, submitted by whistleblower and Madison Official of Disability Adjudication and Review manager Deborah Holland, alleges widespread corruption and cover-up by top managers at the local office and at the regional Social Security Administration headquarters in Chicago. She also sent the report to the Office of Special Counsel , which is supposed to protect whistleblowers.

Holland’s allegations also are corroborated by other employees, including ODAR lead case technician Celia Machelle Keller.

“I have submitted extensive evidence of internal corruption, but our team continues to suffer from witness intimidation, witness tampering, and complete deterioration of the work environment,” Holland wrote in the report.

The OIG is conducting an investigation into the Madison office, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, has opened an inquiry into allegations of misconduct and retaliation at the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR operations. Ron Klym, a whistleblower in Milwaukee who brought to light allegations of misconduct and retaliation, now faces being fired, he says, for going public with his accusations.

“I am the only manager who is standing against the corruption and refusing to personally benefit from it,” wrote Holland. “In an effort to persuade me to cease my complaints and assist in the cover-up, employees of our office have offered me unrecorded time off, free weekends at casino hotels, employment positions outside the agency, and cash pay-offs.”

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WATCH YOUR BACK: Whistleblowers at the troubled Office of Disability Adjudication and Review say they have been targeted for retaliation for trying to shine light on waste, fraud, and abuse.

Holland alleges Madison Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz has led a corrupt system of bribery, based on punishment and rewards. She asserts Hodorowicz’s openly hostile henchman, Wayne Gentz, a staff manager, has served as enforcer. Former Chief Administrative Law Judge Tom Springer long accepted misconduct because he benefited from the widespread nepotism in the office, Holland alleges. And Chicago Regional Attorney Deborah Giesen, who is supposed to protect employees from harassment and intimidation, covered up for her long-time friend Hodorowicz, Holland claims.

Holland and others claim they have been repeatedly retaliated against. It was more of the same Friday, the manager said, when Chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum placed her on administrative leave after Holland went public with her allegations.

RELATED: Whistleblower walked out of troubled Social Security office

Holland  was escorted out of her office by two armed security guards, at Meachum’s request. Meachum told the long-time Social Security Administration employee she is being removed from her management position and stripped of all supervisory duties Holland is being made a project manager for the Chicago Region 5 office, working under the same administrators she has testified against. Holland recorded the exchange with Meachum.

On Thursday, fearing for her safety, Holland filed for and received a temporary restraining order against Gentz. Holland claims he has previously threatened to bring guns and knives into the office and use them on employees who have angered him.

A Social Security Administration spokesman repeatedly has said the agency cannot speak about personnel issues, but that it does not tolerate harassment or retaliation in the workplace.

In her report to the inspector general, Holland alleges a litany of waste, fraud and abuse.

Of Hodorowicz, Holland alleges:

— She has committed time and attendance fraud. She reports hours worked when she is not present in the office.

— Manipulates the performance evaluation system, awards and disciplinary actions. These management tools are misused by her to reward employees who protect her and punish those who don’t.

— She has committed perjury in the Equal Employment Opportunity case of an ODAR employee, during deposition and the hearing.

Holland alleges the following about Gentz:

— Regularly takes two-to three-hour lunches, including on overtime Saturdays.

— On other overtime Saturdays he signs in, leaves, and returns at the end of the day to sign out.

— Under the pen-and-ink timesheet sign-in system, he regularly arrived at 10:30 a.m. but signed in at 6:30 a.m. He destroyed timesheets to put his name at the top in some of these instances.

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 has not responded to Wisconsin Watchdog’s requests for comment, but in a recorded meeting not long after the first reports of corruption and cover-up at the office, Gentz takes issue with the allegation concerning his time in Phoenix.

“I heard from people in Phoenix and they are wondering what sort of fricking physical aggressiveness I perpetrated down there because it’s new to them,” he said in the recording, obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

Gentz goes on to critique Wisconsin Watchdog’s reporting.

“The last story today involves Sen. Ron Johnson talking about an investigation. I welcome it,” he said. “Most of it is BS, little nuggets of truth surrounded by a bunch of exaggerations and false claims. I look forward to somebody coming here and actually sitting down and talking about it.”

It’s not clear whether he still feels that way. Inspector general agents from the national office have since interviewed managers in Madison about the allegations, sources say.

“The (Wisconsin Watchdog) reporter called me on my cellphone yesterday while I was sitting in the doctor’s office and it’s, like, I’m not allowed to talk,” Gentz added. “You’ve got fuddy duddy whistleblowers, I use (whistleblowers) in air quotes here, and they are able to talk and I can’t say jack. And it kind of ticks me off.”

In her report to federal agents, Holland alleges that Giesen:

— Engages in witness intimidation to prevent people from telling the truth about what is happening in the Madison Hearing Office.

— Retaliates against whistleblowers.

— Decides on and drafts disciplinary actions prior to the given matter being investigated.

— Creates a chilling effect on reporting misconduct in the Chicago region.

And then there’s Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, the subject of multiple sexual harassment claims over the past several years, according to multiple sources.

Holland alleges Pleuss:

— Has committed time and attendance fraud, including a pattern of taking excessively long lunches. He signs in earlier than he actually arrives at the office.

— Engages in contracting violations. He was able to get his wife and two of his best friends hired and then demanded preferential scheduling for them.

— Has a long history of sexually harassing behavior.

— Decides disability benefits based on the claimant’s breast size and sex appeal.

In June, Wisconsin Watchdog obtained internal documents showing what employees have described as “highly inappropriate” comments Pleuss has made about claimants appearing before him.

“Young, white (female); attractive brunette,” Pleuss wrote under “Initial Observations” in official hearing notes. The claimants’ names and other personal information have been redacted.

“Young, white (female); long brown hair; attractive; looks innocent,” the ALJ wrote.

He described another claimant as “buxom,” and noted that a “young, white (woman) looks like a man.”

“Obese, young, white (female) skimpy black top,” he wrote of another claimant.

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

In one document, Pleuss wrote, “I’ll pay this lady when hell freezes over!”

In her report to OIG, Holland expresses concerns about evidence tampering.

“There is an abundance of evidence to be found, and no doubt some that has already been destroyed,” she wrote. “Whenever a new allegation or complaint arises, Ms. Hodorowicz directs people to delete emails, shred documents, and get rid of other evidence that could be used against her.”

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.