MADISON, Wis. – Federal investigations into scandal-plagued Midwest Social Security Administration offices are ongoing, sources say, although things appear to be in a “holding pattern.”
“I appreciate that it must be difficult to be in a holding pattern, but that seems to be where we are at until the OIG (Office of Inspector General) investigation is complete and the report and recommendations are issued,” wrote Sarah Benedict Anstaett, Baldwin’s constituent services director.
A source with knowledge of the situation tells Wisconsin Watchdog that the SSA’s Office of Inspector General has not been at the Madison ODAR this week. Agents have spent several weeks at the troubled office this past summer, interviewing staff and managers and digging through documents and electronic communications, sources have said.
The facility has a new hearing office director, replacing – at least for now – Laura Hodorowicz, who is at the center of allegations of misconduct, corruption and cover-up. Hodorowicz, sources, say, continues to telework from her home, but not in her former capacity. Wayne Gentz, a group manager who is accused of misconduct and intimidation, appears to be working off-site, sources said.
Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss continues to sign on the Madison office network, one source said, but he is no longer on the roster of employees. What that means is not clear. A spokesman from the SSA’s regional office in Chicago repeatedly has said the agency cannot discuss personnel matters.
Pluess, who is accused of sexual harassment of staff and of making inappropriate comments about disability benefits claimants, remains locked out of cases, an insider said.
Whistleblowers allege Pleuss has determined whether to award benefits based on a “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 complaints to the OIG, former group manager and whistleblower Deborah Holland expressed concerns about evidence tampering by Madison ODAR managers and staff. Holland was removed from her office in August and stripped of her managerial duties. She and other whistleblowers claim they have been repeatedly retaliated against at the hands of corrupt administrators. Holland is teleworking for the Chicago region headquarters while the investigation continues.
“There is an abundance of evidence to be found, and no doubt some that has already been destroyed,” she wrote in her report to OIG. “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.”
What happens next is up to the federal agencies currently investigating – the OIG and the Office of Special Counsel.
The federal agencies do not comment on ongoing investigations.
Ron Klym, a whistleblower at the Milwaukee ODAR facility who was fired in August, said the OSC is working with him on his case. Six weeks after he was fired, Klym has yet to receive compensation coming to him, he said. Klym was the first whistleblower to go public, alleging misconduct, incompetence and retaliation at the Milwaukee office.
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