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Top judges resign at troubled Social Security Chicago headquarters

By   /   October 19, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 42 of 58 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The shake-up continues at the Social Security Administration’s embattled Chicago regional headquarters, and this time it’s hitting the very top.

Two key resignations follow another management reassignment this week amid multiple federal investigations into corruption and cover-up at the region’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).

Wisconsin Watchdog has learned that Sherry D. Thompson, chief administrative law judge for SSA’s Region 5 in Chicago, and Assistant Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Rabaut have announced they will be resigning from their leadership positions at the end of the year.

Gregory Senden, a representative for the government union that represents many SSA employees, sent an email to several staff members Wednesday advising of the changes.

“Hopefully the new leadership that is chosen will be effective and professional, and willing to work with AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees) to improve the morale of ODAR employees and improve service to the public that we serve,” Senden wrote in the email obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

Senden advised that Ancheska English-Wilson “is the Acting Regional Attorney, until the position is posted and filled.”

Watchdog.org file photo

FALLOUT: Two top administrative law judges at the Social Security Administration’s scandal-plagued Chicago region headquarters have resigned in the wake of federal investigations, sources say.

The resignations follow Wisconsin Watchdog’s months-long investigation into multiple allegations of misconduct and retaliation at the Social Security Administration.

Senden also noted what Wisconsin Watchdog reported earlier this week, that Deborah Giesen – the regional attorney accused by multiple whistleblowers of covering up corruption and retaliation — has moved from her management position into a non-managerial administrative law judge post at the Orland Park, Ill., ODAR facility.

RELATED: Recent weeks bring shake-up at scandal-plagued Social Security offices

One whistleblower with knowledge of the situation called the changes “unprecedented.”

“This isn’t an announcement that Rabaut is retiring to play golf or Thompson is retiring to spend more times with her grandkids,” the source said.

“I think the (Inspector General) found enough stuff to get them out the door,” the insider added. “For them to step down at the same time, it’s just unprecedented.”

Most unusual, the source claims, because Thompson led a corrupt regional office where “shady dealing was rampant.” Thompson, the source alleges, operated from what several employees derisively describe as the “Chicago Playbook,” and did so behind an “impenetrable wall” of protection.

SSA officials have not returned multiple requests for comments.

Wisconsin Watchdog earlier this week learned that former Madison Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz, accused by whistleblowers of corruption, including bribery, intimidation and retaliation, was removed from her office in August after allegedly being caught interfering with the OIG investigation, according to one Social Security Administration insider.

But Hodorowicz remains employed with the agency, doing work for the Chicago region, according to sources.

Photo contributed

ORIGINAL WHISTLEBLOWER: Ron Klym was the first SSA whistleblower to bring allegations of misconduct, and retaliation at the Milwaukee ODAR office. He told Wisconsin Watchdog of a serious backlog of disability benefits cases and what he called the ‘shell game’ being played with claimants’ due process rights. He was fired in August.

Whistleblowers have accused Hodorowicz and others of tampering with potential evidence and with rewarding employees – or punishing them – depending on how they play the internal office game.

John Pleuss, the Madison ODAR administrative law judge accused of sexual harassment, as of this week remained on the employee roster.

“Is he still in the office? I can’t say,” one source said. If so, is the SSA paying Pleuss a reported annual salary of $167,359 (based on his pay grade) to do nothing?

Pleuss faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment of employees and making highly inappropriate comments about Social Security disability claimants.

More so, Pleuss is accused of making his rulings based on the physical attractiveness of claimants.

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in June, Pleuss in his case files described claimants as “attractive,” innocent-looking, “buxom.” In one case, he noted that a “young, white (woman)”appearing before him “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).”

Giesen was supposed to protect employees from harassment and intimidation. Instead, whistleblowers allege, Giesen covered up for her long-time friend Hodorowicz and others engaged in alleged misconduct at the Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago-area ODAR offices, sources say.

Giesen’s move to Orland Park was no demotion. While she loses the power she held at the Chicago office, the administrative law judge gets a sizable bump in pay – from approximately $130,000 annually to at least $165,000 per year, according to federal records.

Meanwhile, the Office of Inspector General continues its investigations into the misconduct allegations, sources say. Wisconsin’s U.S. senators, Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, continue to wait on answers from the SSA. Johnson, chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, opened an inquiry into the myriad allegations in June. SSA has failed to comply with all of that committee’s requests for information.

“I was told (by congressional staffers) that the more the OIG digs, the more they find,” one source said.

Part of 58 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’

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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.