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Federal agents stepping up investigation into troubled Social Security offices

By   /   September 21, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 39 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – Federal investigations into alleged misconduct and retaliation at Social Security disability claims review offices in the Midwest are intensifying, according to multiple sources.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, said she has received a letter from the Social Security Administration confirming ongoing investigations at the scandal-plagued Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in Madison and Milwaukee.

Agents from the SSA’s Office of Inspector General have been investigating whistleblower complaints of corruption, harassment and retaliation at the Madison office for several weeks. Sources say OIG has been at the Milwaukee office in recent days, looking into reports of extraordinarily long case delays and manipulation of files.

The federal Office of Special Counsel, charged with protecting whistleblowers, also has been reviewing allegations of misconduct at the offices.

In a press release, Baldwin said she has been working on behalf of ODAR whistleblowers since September 2015 to “shine light on serious allegations of wrongdoing, harassment and retaliation” at the Social Security facilities.

AP file photo

INVESTIGATION INTENSIFIES: Sources say federal agents are stepping up their investigations into troubled Midwest Social Security offices.

“Now, the Social Security Administration is taking those allegations seriously and a number of investigations and reviews have been initiated,” Baldwin said. “We eagerly await the completion of ongoing investigations by the Office of Special Counsel and Office of the Inspector General so that the Social Security Administration can take appropriate action to ensure these offices are both safe places to work for employees and provide the highest-quality of service to taxpayers.”

RELATED: Read Wisconsin Watchdog’s series, Deadly Delays

When the investigations will be completed is not clear. The federal agencies do not comment on ongoing probes.

But an ODAR employee with knowledge of the situation said several OIG agents were in Madison this week, while other agents questioned the hearing office director at the Oak Brook, Ill., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. That facility has been under fire for allegations of harassment and retaliation.

An employee at the Orland Park, Ill., ODAR has filed multiple complaints alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation, intimidation and retaliation.

Laura Hodorowicz, director of the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, and Wayne Gentz, a group supervisor, were removed from the building last month. Sources say the managers remain on the SSA payroll but continue to work off campus.

Whistleblowers have accused Gentz of intimidation, harassment, retaliation and fraud.

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.

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, according to ODAR sources.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, launched an inquiry into the ODAR offices in June.

Since Johnson’s letter announcing the formal inquiry, however, one whistleblower has been fired, another walked out of the office by armed guards and stripped of her management duties, and several others, according to sources, placed on performance monitoring.

Ron Klym, a whistleblower and 16-year employee at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, said the decision to fire him during an ongoing investigation is clear-cut interference with that investigation. He remains out of a job.

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.