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.
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.”
“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.