Em­ploy­ees tell of $4M dis­abil­ity scheme 4 in the know talk about ha­rass­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

In tes­ti­mony more be­fit­ting a le­gal thriller than a con­gres­sional hear­ing, So­cial Se­cu­rity em­ploy­ees told the Se­nate on Thurs­day of an agency of­fice in West Vir­ginia rife with in­tim­i­da­tion, re­tal­i­a­tion and cor­rup­tion — in­clud­ing a suc­cess­ful scheme that al­lowed a lawyer to bilk more than $4 mil­lion in tax­pay­ers’ money from the dis­abil­ity sys­tem.

Four cur­rent and for­mer fe­male em­ploy­ees in the Hunt­ing­ton of­fice told of be­ing stalked and video­taped and hav­ing to de­fend them­selves against fab­ri­cated charges of mis­con­duct while try­ing to ex­pose the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar racket.

The scam was able to op­er­ate un­der the nose of the agency be­cause of quo­tas that re­quired a cer­tain num­ber of cases be pro­cessed — and agency em­ploy­ees who looked the other way, the women said.

“That’s pretty stun­ning tes­ti­mony, I’ve got to tell you,” Sen. Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat and chair­man of the Se­nate’s chief in­ves­tiga­tive sub­com­mit­tee, told the four women as they laid out de­tails of be­ing fol­lowed by a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor, or fac­ing re­tal­i­a­tion in their jobs, and of cloak-and-dag­ger tac­tics the scam or­ga­niz­ers used to try to hide what they were do­ing.

In a re­port led by staffers for Sen. Tom Coburn of Ok­la­homa, the rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, investigators de­tailed what amounted to a dis­abil­ity case mill that churned out po­ten­tially bogus ap­provals in hun­dreds of cases.

The investigators said Eric C. Conn, a Ken­tucky lawyer who billed him­self as “Mr. So­cial Se­cu­rity,” col­luded with Ad­min­is­tra­tive Law Judge David B. Daugh­erty and sev­eral doc­tors to man­u­fac­ture med­i­cal ev­i­dence that ap­pli­cants were too dis­abled to work, and then use the fab­ri­cated ev­i­dence to jus­tify ap­provals.

Em­ploy­ees in the Hunt­ing­ton of­fice tes­ti­fied that Judge Daugh­erty would go into the com­puter sys­tem and re­as­sign Mr. Conn’s cases to him­self, and he would ap­prove them, amass­ing the third-high­est num­ber of cases of any ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge.

Called be­fore the com­mit­tee to tes­tify Mon­day, Mr. Conn re­fused to an­swer ques­tions, cit­ing his Fifth Amend­ment right against self-in­crim­i­na­tion.

“I re­spect­fully as­sert my con­sti­tu­tional right not to tes­tify here to­day,” he said.

Judge Daugh­erty de­fied a com­mit­tee sub­poena and failed to show up when the time came for him to tes­tify. Com­mit­tee Chair­man Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Demo­crat, said he would con­sider the ap­pro­pri­ate steps to take to en­force the sub­poena.

The case came to the at­ten­tion of investigators af­ter a 2011 Wall Street Jour­nal ar­ti­cle iden­ti­fied Judge Daugh­erty as hav­ing cleared a near record num­ber of cases and ap­prov­ing more than 99 per­cent of them for dis­abil­ity.

The em­ploy­ees who tes­ti­fied said the fraud they saw should have been ob­vi­ous to oth­ers at the Hunt­ing­ton of­fice.

Mr. Coburn said the case ex­posed fail­ures up and down the sys­tem, in­clud­ing within Congress.

“For a long time, Congress has acted as if get­ting peo­ple into the pro­gram is more im­por­tant than do­ing over­sight of the pro­gram,” he said.

So­cial Se­cu­rity’s dis­abil­ity pro­gram has come un­der in­creas­ing scru­tiny as the num­ber of peo­ple earn­ing dis­abil­ity has jumped faster than nor­mal pop­u­la­tion and work­force growth, to reach 8.8 mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries in 2012.

Sev­eral high-pro­file dis­abil­ity fraud cases have con­trib­uted to con­cerns. In this lat­est case, the whistle­blower em­ploy­ees painted a pic­ture of a sys­tem out of con­trol and more fo­cused on meet­ing nu­mer­i­cal quo­tas than in get­ting de­ci­sions right.

Sarah Carver, a se­nior case tech­ni­cian at the Hunt­ing­ton of­fice, tes­ti­fied that the judges would ap­prove cases in one month but not fi­nal­ize them be­cause they al­ready had met that month’s quota. In­stead, they would “bank” the other de­ci­sions for the next month — which meant dis­abil­ity ben­e­fi­cia­ries ended up wait­ing for checks that the agency al­ready de­ter­mined they de­served.

“For a long time, Congress has acted as if get­ting peo­ple into the pro­gram

is more im­por­tant than do­ing over­sight of the pro­gram.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.