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.”
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.
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.”
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