FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — When a Social Security Administration employee blew the whistle on a federal judge and a lawyer bilking the system for more than $600 million in fraudulent disability payments, another judge hired a private investigator to spy on the employee in an attempt to gather enough evidence to have the worker fired.
That's the story federal prosecutors in Kentucky laid out in court documents this week after Charlie Paul Andrus, former chief administrative law judge for the Huntington, West Virginia, office of the Social Security Administration, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to retaliate against a witness. He is scheduled to be sentenced this fall, and could face up to 10 years in prison, a fine or both.
Andrus' guilty plea is the latest development in the case against Eric Conn, a colorful eastern Kentucky attorney who made millions of dollars in Social Security disability cases that earned him the nickname "Mr. Social Security" and attracted thousands of poor clients to his rural Kentucky offices that featured small-scale replicas of the Lincoln and Washington memorials.
In April, federal prosecutors indicted Conn and Administrative Law Judge David Black Daughtery for conspiracy, fraud, obstruction, false statement and money laundering as part of a scheme they say wrongly obtained more than $600 million in federal disability benefits for thousands of people based on unreliable medical evidence supplied by Conn. The Social Security Administration is reviewing the disability benefits of more than 1,500 of Conn's clients.
Andrus is not charged in that case. But as the chief administrative law judge in Huntington, West Virginia, Andrus was Daughtery's boss. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal published an article questioning Daughtery's relationship with Conn and the high number of disability claims he approved. The Social Security Administration demoted Andrus after the article was published, which also coincided with a criminal investigation.
Prosecutors say Andrus was embarrassed by the article, and he knew who was the primary source for the article and the investigation that led to his demotion. The source, who was not identified in court documents, was a Social Security Administration employee who would occasionally work from home. Prosecutors say Andrus met with Conn in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, and the twodevised a scheme to hire a private investigator to spy on the worker, hoping to catch the employee on video not working when he or she was supposed to be working.
In August 2011, Conn told Andrus he had evidence of the worker abusing the work-from-home program. The video was mailed to the Huntington Hearing Office addressed to the acting chief judge.
Court documents say Andrus "knew it was wrong" to spy on the worker and interfere with the worker's employment and livelihood and "wanted to retaliate" against the worker for "providing truthful information to law enforcement officers and The Wall Street Journal."
Solomon Wisenberg, Andrus' attorney, did not immediately return a request for comment. A woman who answered the phone in his office said Wisenberg was in court Tuesday. Jim Deckard, one of Conn's attorneys, also did not respond to a request for comment.