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Sources: Social Security judge accused of deciding cases on sex appeal retires

By   /   January 11, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 50 of 51 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The federal administrative law judge accused of describing claimants as “buxom” and “gorilla-like” has left the Social Security Administration, the agency confirmed Wednesday.

John Pleuss retired on Dec. 31 from SSA’s scandal-plagued Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation tell Wisconsin Watchdog.

Doug Nguyen, communications director for SSA’s Region 5 based in Chicago, confirmed Pleuss is “currently not employed by the SSA.”

The spokesman did not answer whether Pleuss left voluntarily or was fired.

“Judge Pleuss in not currently a Social Security employee and we cannot comment on personnel issues,” Nguyen said in a follow-up email.

Whistleblowers and others with knowledge of the federal investigations into Pleuss’ conduct said that the embattled administrative law judge has retired.

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STEPPING OUT: Social Security Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct at the Madison office, retired last month sources say. The long-time federal employee stands to collect hefty retirement benefits checks.

Pleuss could not be reached for comment at his Madison home Wednesday.

For months, sources say, federal investigators have been looking into allegations that Pleuss sexually harassed ODAR employees and made inappropriate comments about the people who have appealed to him for Social Security disability benefits.

More serious are allegations that Pleuss decided cases based on the physical appearance of claimants.

Sources tell Wisconsin Watchdog that many of Pleuss’ cases are under review.

What happens next?

Insiders say Wisconsin’s U.S. senators are awaiting the release of a final report by SSA’s Office of the Inspector General. OIG has been investigating the sexual harassment allegations and a raft of misconduct accusations, including bribery and fraud, at the Madison office for several months. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, continues its inquiry into the SSA, an investigation that began in June. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has for months demanded answers from SSA. And the Office of Special Counsel, too, sources say, has been investigating reports of whistleblower retaliation.

For now, it appears Pleuss will retire with his taxpayer-funded federal pension and all of the accompanying benefits, estimated to be worth nearly $1 million, based on his six-figure salary and his lengthy federal service. Federal retirement plans provide civil service retirement benefits from a combination of the Basic Benefit Plan, Social Security and the Thrift Savings Plan.

As Reg Jones, former head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management pointed out in a Federal Times column, unless a federal employee is fired for any of the offenses cited in 5 U.S. Code 8313, “which largely involve treason, rebellion and seditious conduct,” the employee is eligible for a deferred annuity at age 60.

An SSA whistleblower said Pleuss’ retirement is a mixed blessing.

“On one hand, it is a satisfying resolution to me because the claimants and staff are no longer subject to that kind of behavior, but on the other hand it seems pretty unjust that he escapes with no consequences,” the whistleblower said. The SSA insider suspects the agency is trying to save itself and Pleuss from liability.

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.”

RELATED: ‘Culture of corruption and ‘cover-up’ alleged in Madison Social Security office

“Obese, young, white (female) skimpy black top,” he wrote of another claimant.

“Very black, African looking (female),” the ALJ wrote, and parenthetically added, “(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”

In one document, Pleuss wrote, “I’ll pay this lady when hell freezes over!”

Following the reports, Pleuss was taken off cases, sources said. In November, he was escorted out of the Madison ODAR facility by armed guards, according to insiders.

“This is the beginning of justice being served,” one ODAR source told Wisconsin Watchdog.

Meanwhile, two top Region 5 officials who were expected to leave their leadership positions by the end of 2016 remain with SSA.

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

Whistleblowers say the judges have not departed yet, something Nguyen confirmed Wednesday.

“Judge Thompson and Rabaut are both still employed by the SSA,” the spokesman said.

Part of 51 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’

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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. 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. Contact Kittle at [email protected]