Top judges resign at troubled Social Security Chicago headquarters

Top judges resign at troubled Social Security Chicago headquarters

By   /   October 19, 2016  /   News  /   33 Comments

Part 43 of 42 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The shake-up continues at the Social Security Administration’sembattled 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.”

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Watchdog.org file photo

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 investigationinto 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

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 43 of 42 in the series Deadly Delays

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

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