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Report: Social Security managers gambled, watched Packers at Lambeau on taxpayer dime

By   /   February 15, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 54 of 56 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The director of a scandal-plagued Social Security Administration hearing office used official leave and sick leave to gamble at an area casino, while a group supervisor got paid a full day’s wage to watch a Green Bay Packers football game.

AP file photo

TIME FRAUD: A federal investigation into a Madison Social Security Administration office found the hearing office director used sick leave to gamble at an area casino and another supervisor watched a Green Bay Packers game on the clock, according to a letter from Sen. Ron Johnson.

These are just some of the many details about troubling conduct emerging from a report on a federal investigation into the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

And Sen. Ron Johnson wants answers quickly from the SSA.

The Oshkosh Republican, who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, sent a letter this week to SSA Acting Commissioner Nancy Berryhill seeking a response to the findings of misconduct and allegations of whistleblower retaliation at the troubled office.

Johnson is giving the agency until 5 p.m. on Feb. 27 to provide the documents the Senate committee is requesting.

“An Office of Inspector General investigation found serious problems, including time and attendance fraud, and showed that two whistleblowers in the office experienced disparate treatment from other workers,” Johnson wrote. “I request information about how SSA will address these problems.”

As the senator noted, while OIG investigators found violations of the law, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Wisconsin has inexplicably declined prosecution. The U.S. attorney’s office did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported earlier this month in its series Deadly Delays, SSA’s Office of the Inspector General “fact sheet” states the law was broken at the Madison ODAR facility and that managers held whistleblowers to significantly stricter standards than other staff.

Johnson expounds further on the OIG report, which was sent to the Social Security Administration on Jan. 30, and then presented to the U.S. attorney, according to the senator. The report has not yet been made public.

“The OIG report substantiated time and attendance fraud by employees in the Madison ODAR hearing office,” the senator wrote. “One employee documented that he worked a regular eight-hour day … when he actually attended a Green Bay Packers football game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.”

OIG investigators found that the employee, identified as former Madison ODAR group supervisor Wayne Gentz according to multiple sources close to the situation, “violated federal law, federal regulations, and the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.”

Former Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz “used official and sick leave to gamble at an area casino,” Johnson wrote. “The OIG found this conduct violated federal law and federal regulations.”

Hodorowicz, accused of leading a “culture of corruption and cover-up” at the Madison office, was removed from the office and relieved of her management duties in August amid the OIG investigation. Sources say Hodorowicz remains employed with the Social Security Administration.

Gentz, too, was removed from the office and his position. He also remains on the agency payroll, sources say.

RELATED: Read Wisconsin Watchdog’s series, “Deadly Delays,” examining misconduct allegations at the Social Security Administration’s ODAR

“Time and attendance abuses by the HOD (Hearing Office Director) and the GS (Group Supervisor) violated both law and regulations and set a tone for the office that misconduct by certain employees will be tolerated and, in some instances, encouraged,” states an investigation “fact sheet,” obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

In June, an ODAR insider 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 ran out of sweeteners, the source 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 insider 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 Commission 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. Gentz’s wife  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.

The inspector general report detailed evidence of hiring misconduct. It found that Hodorowicz “manipulated the hiring process on multiple occasions so that she could hire specific individuals, including the family members of current employees,” according to Johnson’s letter.

“The office director also attempted to dissuade applicants from applying to vacancies in favor of hiring family members,” Johnson stated. The OIG concluded the conduct “may have violated merit system principles” in federal law.

Federal investigators examined sexual harassment and other misconduct allegations against Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss. The OIG substantiated that Pleuss used “inappropriate, racist and sexist language in his hearing notes and writing instructions,” Johnson wrote.

Watchdog.org file photo

‘ADVERSE TREATMENT’: The federal report finds whistleblowers at the Madison office were held to higher standards than other employees.

While the inappropriate language was widely known throughout the office for several years, it was not addressed until after Wisconsin Watchdog published some of Pleuss’ notes and writing instructions in June, according to the letter. Investigators apparently have found no “overt” racial or sexist bias in the administrative law judge’s decisions, an allegation leveled against Pleuss early on.

Pleuss in his notes to legal assistants described claimants as “attractive,” “innocent-looking,” “buxom.” In one case, he noted 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 judge wrote, and parenthetically he added,“(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”

Pleuss retired at the end of the year, still eligible for a pension and a suite of federal benefits.

The OIG report also noted that to whistleblowers in the Madison ODAR hearing office experienced adverse treatment after making whistleblower disclosures. The Social Security Administration has denied any retaliation.

The OIG concluded that, “while we did not substantiate any clear instances of reprisal against [the whistleblowers], who disclosed the malfeasance in the Madison (Hearing Office) at great personal risk, we note that both of them were held to strict interpretations of all agency policies, while other favored employees … were not,” according to Johnson’s letter.

“SSA must take appropriate steps to address the violations of federal law and regulations found by the OIG,” Johnson wrote.

The senator is asking the Social Security Administration to explain:

  1. What steps SSA will take to address time and attendance fraud in the Madison ODAR hearing office.
  2. What steps SSA will take to address inappropriate hiring practices in the Madison ODAR hearing office.
  3. What steps SSA will take to ensure that inappropriate racial or sexual language is no longer used in hearing notes and writing instructions.
  4. Why the two whistleblowers identified by the OIG were held to “strict interpretations of all agency policies” while other employees were not.
  5. What steps SSA will take to ensure that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.
  6. Provide SSA’s written policies for preserving federal records, in particular written material used in the decision-making process for disability adjudications.

Social Security Administration officials repeatedly have declined to comment on personnel matters.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin earlier this month sent a letter to Berryhill, urging the new administrator to “take appropriate action to ensure the hearing office in Madison and each of the Social Security Administration offices in Wisconsin are safe places to work for employees and provide high-quality service to taxpayers.”

Part of 56 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

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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.