MADISON, Wis. — There’s more fallout from the scandal-plagued Social Security disability claims review office under a cloud of alleged corruption and retaliation.
Multiple sources tell Wisconsin Watchdog that Laura Hodorowicz, director of the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, was escorted from the building Tuesday.
While Hodorowicz’s status with the agency is not clear, internal emails obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog show the hearing office director is out of the office.
“Laura will be out for the rest of the week,” states the email to staff, written by the office’s Chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum.
“I am the only manager in the office, and I have hearings this afternoon and tomorrow,” Meachum wrote.
LaShonn Alexander from the Social Security Administration’s Chicago regional office arrived Wednesday morning to assist with the hearing office director duties this week, Meachum informed staff.
“I sent a separate e-mail to the (case) writers about case assignments this morning. Thank you all for doing a great job and keeping the office running,” Meachum concluded.
On Tuesday, sources said Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss’ hearings have been reassigned and he has been removed from the full docket of hearings and claims review. Pleuss, accused of sexually harassing staff and writing sexually and racially charged remarks about claimants, is not listed on the calendar through the rest of the year, ODAR employees said.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s retired, fired, or suspended. But it does mean the claimants are no longer subjected to this nonsense,” one source told Wisconsin Watchdog.
Agents from the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General are back in Madison this week conducting wide-ranging interviews for an investigation into corruption allegations, multiple sources say.
Hodorowicz is accused of leading a “culture of corruption and cover-up” at the Madison office, a culture that whistleblowers allege “goes all the way to the top.”
In June, an ODAR employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said Hodorowicz has long been fond of making “dirty backroom deals,” offering “cooperative” employees perks in the form of financial benefits and special privileges to maintain their loyalty and above all — silence — about misconduct in the office.
Eventually, the office director runs out of sweeteners, the employee said.
“When that happens, the threats begin. … She will threaten people’s jobs, tell them she won’t promote them, lower their performance reviews, say that she will give them a bad reference,” the insider said. “She will give them the worst work assignments in the office.”
Multiple employees say the office director has been the subject of several investigations into her conduct in Madison, and when she held the same position in Milwaukee. Each time, they say, her cadre of loyalists testify on her behalf. And, sources say, they are rewarded for their loyalty.
The Madison office staff member said Hodorowicz has taken nepotism to a new level. She hired the adult children of Bill Allen, an ODAR employee who refused to testify against her in a hostile work environment claim, according to the staff member with inside information. Office records also confirm the hirings. Following an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, the supervisor’ son, Jason Allen, provided testimony helpful to Hodorowicz’s cause; Hodorowicz then hired Jason Allen’s wife, the source said. And Hodorowicz hired the daughter of a close friend. The wife of Wayne Gentz, a group supervisor considered a Hodorowicz ally, also was brought in to do administrative work.
“She hired those people in violation of hiring rules. Rather than hiring disabled veterans or other qualified applicants, (Hodorowicz) manipulated the hiring rules to hire employee family members as rewards,” the source said.
Meanwhile, Pleuss’ wife works as a hearing monitor, as does Administrative Law Judge Thomas Springer’s adult daughter, according to records.
“We have this web of people all of whom have skin in the game,” the ODAR employee said.
Hodorowicz has referred all questions to the regional office. She has asked Wisconsin Watchdog not to contact her again.
Doug Nguyen, communications director for the Social Security Administration’s Chicago region, has referred Wisconsin Watchdog’s questions to the agency’s Office of Inspector General, which has “independent authority to conduct their investigations.” The OIG, however, does not comment on investigations.
ODAR whistleblowers have told Wisconsin Watchdog they have repeatedly been subject to retaliation and intimidation for reporting waste, abusive behavior and other misconduct in their government offices.
Deborah Holland, a whistleblower who had served as Madison ODAR group manager up until the agency stripped her of her management duties and placed her on administrative leave, has provided a detailed report alleging misconduct and retaliation to multiple federal agencies and to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.
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.
“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.
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