Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Attorneys Fees May Be Capped For Lawyers Representing SSA Claimants

Argument preview: Justices consider cap on attorney’s fees for successful representation of Social Security disability claimants (Corrected)

Attorney Richard Culbertson successfully represented several Social Security disability claimants both before the Social Security Administration and in federal court. Prior to his representation, he entered into fee agreements that provided that the clients would pay him attorney’s fees equal to 25 percent of past-due benefits for successful representation before the court as well as separate attorney’s fees for successful representation before the agency. Following longstanding precedent of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, adopted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the court below capped his attorney’s fees at 25 percent of past-due benefits for representation before both the Social Security Administration and the court.
In granting certiorari, the Supreme Court agreed to resolve a split among the federal courts of appeals as to whether the Social Security Act imposes an aggregate cap on attorney’s fees of 25 percent of past-due benefits for representation before both the court and the Social Security Administration, or instead the 25 percent cap applies separately to representation before the court.

The Social Security Act regulates the amount and manner in which an attorney may collect fees from a disability claimant for successful representation before the agency and the court. 42 USC § 406(a) governs attorney’s fees for successful representation before the agency, while 42 USC § 406(b) governs attorney’s fees for successful representation before the court. The Equal Access to Justice Act also authorizes a court to order recovery of “reasonable attorney’s fees” from the government in certain cases in which the claimant is successful and the government’s position was not “substantially justified.” If attorney’s fees are awarded under the EAJA and under Section 406(b), the attorney must refund the lesser fee to the claimant. The Social Security Administration withholds a single pool of 25 percent of past-due benefits from which to certify for payment any and all attorney’s fees awarded under Section 406(a) and/or 406(b).
Section 406(a) authorizes two avenues for recovery of attorney’s fees from a claimant for successful representation before the agency. Under Section 406(a)(1), an attorney may file a “fee petition” with the Social Security Administration. Alternatively, under a more recent and more commonly used, streamlined process, an attorney may seek approval of a “fee agreement” with a claimant under Section 406(a)(2). No cap is imposed under Section 406(a)(1). Section 406(a)(2) limits attorney’s fees to the lesser of 25 percent of past-due benefits or a specified dollar amount, currently set at $6,000.
For successful representation before a court, Section 406(b)(1)(A) provides in relevant part:
Whenever a court renders a judgment favorable to a claimant under [Title II] who was represented before the court by an attorney, the court may determine and allow as part of its judgment a reasonable fee for such representation, not in excess of 25 percent of the total of the past-due benefits to which the claimant is entitled by reason of such judgment.
Section 406(b)(1)(A) further provides that “no other fee may be payable or certified for payment for such representation except as provided in this paragraph.”
Focusing on the “plain meaning” of Section 406(b), Culbertson argues that the term “such representation” in Section 406(b)(1)(A) clearly refers to the antecedent phrase “represented before the court,” and thus under the plain meaning of Section 406(b), the 25 percent cap applies to representation “before the court by an attorney” and does not include representation before the agency. Culbertson also argues that a separate cap on attorney’s fees for representation before the court is consistent with the structure of Section 406 as well as the purpose of the statute and its legislative history.
Almost 40 years ago, in the first circuit-court decision to address this issue, Dawson v. Finch, the 5th Circuit held that Section 406(b) imposes an aggregate cap on attorney’s fees for representation in the administrative proceedings as well as before the court. In reaching this result, the 5th Circuit looked to the legislative history of the provision in order to discern Congress’ intent. Specifically, the court focused on the fact that Congress added Section 406(b) to address two goals. First, Congress sought to encourage effective legal representation by “insuring lawyers that they will receive reasonable fees directly through certification by the Secretary.” Second, Congress sought to protect claimants against excessive attorneys’ fees, which in the past had reached one-third to one-half of claimants’ past-due benefits, by imposing the 25 percent cap on fees. In 1982, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit also looked to this legislative history to hold in Morris v. Social Security Administration that Section 406(b) imposes a cumulative 25 percent cap on attorney’s fees.
More recently, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 6th, 9th and 10th Circuits have focused on the text of section 406(b) to hold that the 25 percent cap only applies to representation before a court. See Horenstein v. Secretary of Health and Human Services; Clark v. Astrue; and Wrenn v. Astrue, respectively.
The commissioner’s position on this issue has flipflopped over the years. Almost 40 years ago, the commissioner sided with the 5th Circuit in interpreting Section 406(b) to impose an aggregate cap and opposed the grant of certiorari in Dawson. Then about 15 years later, the commissioner sought and obtained 6th Circuit en banc review of the panel’s decision in Horenstein v. Secretary of Health and Human Services based on arguments that were logically inconsistent with an aggregate 25 percent cap. Almost 15 years after that, the commissioner argued in briefs before the 9th and 10th Circuits that an aggregate cap honors congressional intent and it would be inappropriate to permit attorneys to potentially collect up to 25 percent of a disability claimant’s past-due benefits at both the agency and court levels.
In this case, the acting commissioner initially supported the 11th Circuit’s rule imposing an aggregate cap. Then, after requesting four extensions to file a response, the acting commissioner filed a response siding with Culbertson and arguing that the text of Section 406(b) unambiguously applies the 25 percent cap only to attorney’s fees for representation before a court. The acting commissioner further argues that a 25 percent cap would be inconsistent with other provisions of Section 406(a) and that the absence of an aggregate cap does not mean that the agency and courts should approve fees that in the aggregate are equal to or greater than 50 percent of a claimant’s past-due benefits.
Because the acting commissioner agrees with Culbertson, the Supreme Court appointed Amy Levin Weil, an experienced 11th Circuit appellate litigator, to serve as amicus curiae in support of the 11th Circuit’s decision. Weil argues that the statute itself does not specifically state whether combined attorney’s fees may exceed 25 percent, and that the text of Section 406(a) and Section 406(b), read together, supports the aggregate rule. She also points to the legislative history on which the 4th and 5th Circuits relied in support of an aggregate 25 percent cap.  She contends that permitting attorney’s fees to exceed 25 percent in the aggregate could lead to attorneys suing their clients to collect fees out of their present or future Social Security benefits contrary to the Social Security Act’s purpose of ensuring beneficiaries a protected source of income. She also argues that rejecting the 25 percent aggregate rule would lead to absurd results, with fees of up to 75 percent of past-due benefits if a favorable district court opinion is appealed and the applicant is successful in the court of appeals. She contends that the aggregate cap allows a logical division of agency and court fees from the 25-percent-of-accrued-benefit pool in a manner that recognizes that a portion of the accrued benefits is attributable to the time that the case was pending before the agency while the other portion is attributable to the time the case was pending before the court.
The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives filed an amicus brief in the case. The NOSSCR does not address the plain meaning of the statute. Instead, it contends that Section 406(b) cannot impose an aggregate 25 percent cap on attorney’s fees for representation before a court and the agency because Section 406(a)(1) does not impose a cap on fees before the agency. NOSSCR further argues that a court has no discretion to impose an aggregate cap. NOSSCR informs the court that in circuits without an aggregate cap, the prevailing market rate includes a cumulative cap either by contract or in practice.
Weil faces an uphill battle in convincing the Supreme Court to uphold the 11th Circuit’s decision. The plain-meaning approach to statutory interpretation currently favored by the court supports Culbertson’s position. Moreover, amici curiae appointed by the Supreme Court typically only win about 25 percent of their cases.
If, however, Weil can convince the court to look beyond the text of the Section 406(b) in isolation, it may, like Chief Judge Geoffrey Crawford of the District of Vermont, find that “it would be strange indeed to believe that Congress would in 1965 denounce 50% contingency fees as excessive and enact a statute to stop them, and then, in 1968, pass a law with the effect of permitting 50% contingency fees.”
A previous version of this post inadvertently implied that NOSSCR advocated a particular method for EAJA offsets.

Posted Wed, October 31st, 2018 11:04 am

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Eric Conn's Clients Locked Out

Facing possible financial ruin, ex-Eric Conn clients still can’t get his files on them

The issue is important because the Social Security Administration(SSA) last month began holding hearings on whether nearly 2,000 former clients of Conn will get to keep their disability benefits.
The hearings require people to show they were disabled at the time they originally were awarded benefits, which is more than a decade in some cases, said Ned Pillersdorf, a Prestonsburg attorney who has represented dozens of former Conn clients and helped line up volunteer lawyers for others.
Social Security (SSA) won’t consider evidence from several medical professionals Conn used to complete paperwork in clients’ cases because of the potential that the information was fraudulent.
Conn admitted he filled out evaluations that doctors and a psychologist signed without doing real examinations on the clients.
However, the files in Conn’s former office may contain evidence from other medical professionals not suspected of wrongdoing, meaning it could still be used in proving eligibility, Pillersdorf said.
Pillersdorf said he has learned that Conn did not file key medical evidence in many cases.
That may have been because he didn’t want to pay the extra cost to do so and didn’t need to,

 because he was bribing a Social Security ALJ David Black Daugherty.
Pillersdorf said Social Security judges SSA ALJs have refused requests from him and other attorneys representing Conn’s former clients to delay making decisions in their cases.
Many of Conn’s one-time clients can’t remember which doctors treated them a decade or more ago, so without the files Conn kept on them, many of them will have to go through hearings without information that might help them, Pillersdorf said.
That despite the old files being stored 12 miles from where the hearings are being held.
“That’s scandalous,” Pillersdorf said. “The files are relevant in that they were likely generated from 2006-2009, which is the time frame the ongoing hearings are focused on.”
Conn, who lived in Pikeville and had an office in Floyd County, is serving a 27-year prison sentence after admitting using false information in clients’ cases;

paying ALJ David Daugherty, a Social Security judge, more than $600,000 in bribes; and other charges.
Conn had been one of the most prolific Social Security disability attorneys in the nation before he was indicted in 2016, representing thousands of people in Eastern Kentucky.
Social Security said it had to make a new determination of whether about 3,700 of those people deserved to continue getting disability benefits because of Conn’s fraud.
In the first round of about 1,800, the agency kept benefits in place for about 250 people without a hearing. Of the rest, nearly 800 lost benefits.
The files at Conn’s old office might have been useful in those hearings, Pillersdorf said.
Many people turned down for continued benefits in those hearings have appealed or re-applied, but the loss of income has caused financial hardship, and at least three people committed suicide over the prospect of losing checks, Pillersdorf said.
Disability benefits are an important piece of the economy in some Eastern Kentucky counties.
The 12 counties with the highest percentage of people receiving disability payments through Social Security in 2015 were all in Eastern Kentucky, according to a report issued last year from a division of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Wolfe County led that list, with 24.92 percent of residents receiving disability.
Statewide, 11.2 percent of Kentuckians received disability benefits in 2015, the second-highest rate in the nation, the report said.
Pillersdorf said he and other lawyers representing Conn’s former clients only learned last spring that there were hundreds of boxes of files regarding them at the complex of five interconnected mobile homes Conn used as an office.
Conn has been away from the office since April 2016, either on home detention or jail, or outside the country when he absconded for six months last year.
Eric Conn
Eric Conn was escorted by SWAT team agents prior to his extradition, at the Toncontin International Airport, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Conn, a fugitive Kentucky lawyer who escaped before facing sentencing for his central role in a massive Social Security fraud case, was captured Dec. 2 as he came out of a restaurant in the coastal city of La Ceiba.
Moises Castillo AP
Conn’s employees had told former clients their files were no longer available at the office, Pillersdorf said.
Pillersdorf sent the U.S. Department of Justice an email late last March asking the agency to preserve the files, which are the property of the clients.
In May, he asked the Kentucky Bar Association to appoint a special commissioner to take charge of the files.
Conn agreed to forfeit the office to the government so that it could be sold, with proceeds applied to a $5.7 million judgment imposed as part of his guilty plea.
The state bar association has a procedure in place to take control of records in the office of an attorney and distribute them to clients, such as when a lawyer dies or is disbarred, as Conn was.
However, McCullough said John D. Meyers, executive director of the bar association, notified prosecutors in June that the association would not appoint someone to take charge of Conn’s files.
Meyers said he had told a Justice Department attorney who contacted him in early April that the process for appointing a special commissioner is cumbersome and time-consuming.
Before appointing a special commissioner, the rule requires the bar association to first determine there is no one else who could wrap up matters at a defunct law office, Meyers said.
In Conn’s case, the bar association determined there was a former employee of his office who was qualified to do that, noting she is familiar with the location of the files and the filing system, he said.
Meyers said the KBA “will not speculate” on why the Justice Department and other parties decided not to let the former Conn employee do the job.
McCullough said the former employee did not have the resources for the “daunting project” of dealing with 6,000 to 8,000 abandoned files.
After the KBA decision, the Justice Department began looking for another option and decided to have Janet Stumbo, a former state Supreme Court and Appeals Court judge who is married to Pillersdorf, take control of the files and get them to Conn’s former clients.
The job, which is likely to be time consuming, would have included compensation.
The department asked Reeves to appoint Stumbo.
Reeves, however, ordered the government to submit the names of at least three potential receivers, and said they could not be family members or employees of firms involved in any matter related to claims arising from Conn’s former representation of claimants.
That would not allow Stumbo to do the job.
The effort to find another receiver could mean there wouldn’t be one in place until next year, Pillersdorf said.
“At this rate hundreds of former Conn clients either have or will have gone through hearings without their files,” he said.
The government also can’t sell Conn’s old office until the files are out of it.

Duration 2:33
Becoming ‘Mr. Social Security’: The bizarre story of fugitive lawyer Eric Conn
Fugitive lawyer Eric C. Conn was convicted in a fraud scheme that could have cost the government more than $550 million in Social Security payments. Here's how the onetime king of Eastern Kentucky disability cases ended up on the FBI's most-wanted

Read more here: https://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article218390780.html#storylink=cpy

Friday, September 7, 2018

SSA Judge Commits Suicide

'It Wasn't Pleasant': Retired Miami Judge Criticizes Social Security Judicial System After Former Colleague's Suicide

Retired Social Security judge Thomas Snook, Miami. Courtesy photo.
A former colleague of Judge Timothy Maher, a federal jurist who shot himself with a rifle Aug. 24 after a prolonged standoff with police, is speaking out about events leading to the incident.
“He wasn’t some maniac running around,” retired Social Security Judge Thomas Snook said about Maher, who had been arrested days earlier on a charge of aggravated assault with a firearm after a domestic dispute at a home in El Portal. “I was very disappointed to read that he wasn’t Baker Acted.”
Snook, who was appointed to Miami’s Social Security office in 1997 and retired two years ago, took to social media, with a post on Facebook.

“I hope someone will investigate SSA culpability in this tragedy so it does not happen again,” he  wrote. “Please share.”
“I am angry right now that a friend has needlessly died,” Snook’s post continued. “But I am more angry at how the Social Security Administration mishandled this tragic situation.”
The Social Security Administration did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
“I felt helpless in seeing this turn from a tragic situation that could have been remedied into a death spiral,” Snook told the Daily Business Review.

Related: Federal Judge Kills Himself in Standoff With Police

Maher’s personal issues arose from beyond the courthouse, and it’s since been reported by the Miami Herald that he owned more than 50 guns and had a “hit list.
But Snook said that wasn’t the side of the judge that he knew.
Miami-Dade County Administrative Law Judge Timothy Maher. Photo courtesy of Miami-Dade courts.
“He was a decent, honorable, good judge, who needed some help and had some severe personal problems, so I was very sorry and angry to see that he died,” Snook said.
Snook’s anger is predominantly directed at the Social Security operation, which he feels ”is not a good model for a judicial system.”
He said the agency is home to a huge backlog of cases.
“That certainly played into my decision to retire,” Snook said.
When he left the bench, judges were “working toward” 50 hearings a month.
“The agency was putting more pressure on the judges to put out more cases,” Snook said. “Well, the judges aren’t the only person on the conveyor belt. But that’s unfortunately the way the agency looked at it, as a productivity issue, when you have to judge each case individually.”
Snook said he and Maher were among an “overwhelming number” of disability judges who weren’t able to retain staff because they were members of a union, the Association of Administrative Law Judges.
“In order to be a union member no one can work for you. It’s a very strange situation,” Snook said.

Click here to read a recent audit report from the Office of the Inspector General

Being a social security judge “wasn’t pleasant,” Snook said. That said, he doesn’t recall an instance when Maher said he felt stressed or pressured at work.
Back in 2014, Snook and Maher were featured in a Washington Post article, “The biggest backlog in the federal government,” along with Miami Social Security Judge Carol Pennock. It stated that the backlog at that time was over 900,000 cases.
“It’s more than a million now,” Snook said.
That article almost collapsed before it began, but “Judge Maher saved the whole plan,” Snook said.
The reporter, David Fahrenthold, had traveled to Miami to sit in on another judge’s hearing, but the claimant didn’t show up and the hearing was canceled.
According to Snook, “Judge Maher immediately said, ‘I have a hearing coming up in a few minutes and I don’t think the attorney would have any problem with somebody sitting in on the case. Why don’t you talk to the attorney?’”
But things took a turn in 2015, when the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR, conducted an investigation into Maher over allegations of harassment.

Read ODAR’s letter at the conclusion of its investigation of Maher:

According to Snook, Maher was barred from the Miami office and told to conduct all hearings from Fort Lauderdale for the duration of the investigation. The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review also allegedly instructed Fort Lauderdale staff not to speak to him, according to Snook.
Snook met Maher before he became a judge, when Maher was an attorney with the Internal Revenue Service. He expressed interest in becoming a disability judge, so Snook guided him through the “competitive” application process.
“As an example of how kind-hearted he could be, I got a gift card in the mail for a couple hundred dollars to Morton’s Steakhouse from Judge Maher afterward,” Snook recalled. “He wrote a little note and thanked me for helping him.”

The Last Days of Judge Timothy Maher: What Led a Federal Jurist to End His Own Life?

“There was an allegation brought against Judge Maher. With the secrecy this agency has, I still don’t know exactly what the allegation is,” he said. ‘But in any event, they ordered Judge Maher to conduct his hearings from the Fort Lauderdale hearing office.”
Snook felt like “things weren’t handled well by the agency.” He remembers Maher as having a “good sense of humor” and being “very caring” to courthouse employees.
When an attorney Maher knew became involved in a domestic dispute situation, he offered a helping hand.
“(The attorney) actually called Judge Maher and he told her to come to his home, as, basically, a safe house, and she did,” Snook said.
Ironically, when Maher was arrested Aug. 14, it was after he allegedly pointing a rifle at his ex-girlfriend in her El Portal home when he came to pick up their 4-year-old son under a shared-custody arrangement.
“When this incident with his girlfriend occurred, my understanding was that Maher went to the office the next day. But he certainly expressed to some judges that, basically, his career was over, that the agency would go after him for this,” Snook said.
A week later, Maher held his in-laws hostage inside a house in Homestead, then ended his life.
“If I had known about it, I would have driven down, gotten on a megaphone and said, ‘Tim, do you really want your son to grow up without a father?’ because he was very caring about the child.”

Monday, August 6, 2018

Trump's Executive Order Concerning ALJs; Will It Eliminate The Back Log, Drain The Swamp, of Just Make ALJs Political?

ALJs Could Get Political With New Executive Order

The new executive order (EO) granting agency chiefs the power to hire administrative law judges (ALJs) according to their own standards—and eliminating the exam and competitive hiring process formerly in place—could turn the position of ALJ into a politicized one, critics of the move argue.
The “Executive Order Excepting Administrative Law Judges from the Competitive Service,” signed by President Donald Trump on July 10, attempts to solve the problems raised by the Supreme Court’s decision this year in Lucia v. Securities & Exchange Commission. But critics worry about the unforeseen consequences to the regulatory process that this EO may cause.
What happened
In a closely watched case, the Supreme Court in Lucia held that the common practice of having ALJs appointed by the staffs of federal agencies was unconstitutional. ALJs, such as those used by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), are “Officers of the United States” who can be appointed only by the president, “Courts of Law” or “Heads of Departments” pursuant to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, the Court held.
The opinion, authored by Justice Elena Kagan and joined by the five conservative-leaning justices (with a concurrence in part by Justice Breyer), has resulted in considerable uncertainty, not just for the SEC but for all federal agencies that use ALJs. ALJs are found throughout the federal system, from the National Labor Relations Board to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with the bulk of the approximately 1,900 ALJs found in the Social Security Administration. Before the president’s July 10 EO, federal agencies had hired ALJs through a competitive merit selection process administered by the Office of Personnel Management. After Lucia, this practice might no longer pass constitutional scrutiny.
In an effort “to eliminate doubt regarding the constitutionality of the method of appointing officials who discharge such significant duties and exercise such significant discretion,” Trump issued the EO.
In the EO, the president explained: “I find that conditions of good administration make necessary an exception to the competitive hiring rules and examinations for the position of ALJ.
“These conditions include the need to provide agency heads with additional flexibility to assess prospective appointees without the limitations imposed by competitive examination and competitive selection procedures.”
The EO “will also give agencies greater ability and discretion to assess critical qualities in ALJ candidates, such as work ethic, judgment, and ability to meet the particular needs of the agency,” the president added. “These are all qualities individuals should have before wielding the significant authority conferred on ALJs, and each agency should be able to assess them without proceeding through complicated and elaborate examination processes or rating procedures that do not necessarily reflect the agency’s particular needs. This change will also promote confidence in, and the durability of, agency adjudications.”
Now, the sole requirement to be appointed an ALJ is a professional license to practice law and good standing to practice in one of the states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or any territorial court. As a result, agency heads have broad discretion to appoint ALJs as they see fit, with very little oversight.
Critics of the EO expressed concern that this new process will lead to political appointments that lack the appearance of independence. “This change will politicize our courts, lead to cronyism and replace independent and impartial adjudicators with those who do the bidding of political appointees,” Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, said in a statement, calling the EO “an assault on due process for the American people.”

Why it matters
While the White House touted the EO as a means to alleviate uncertainty in the wake of the Lucia decision and as a more efficient and less burdensome procedure than the former competitive examination and selection process, critics were not appeased. Forgoing the merit-based hiring process and putting the selection power into the hands of politically appointed agency heads will lead to politicized ALJs, opponents argued. Going forward, it will be important to watch and see how this new appointments process affects ALJ decisions throughout the federal agencies.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Fugitive Lawyer Eric Conn Pleads Guilty

Fugitive lawyer pleads guilty for escape, fraud

Attorney Eric Christopher Conn, 58, of Pikeville pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves of the Eastern District of Kentucky to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of conspiracy to escape and one count of conspiracy to retaliate against an informant. Sentencing is set for September 7, 2018.
According to the plea, from October 2004 to December 2017, Conn participated in a scheme with former SSA administrative law judge David Black Daugherty, multiple doctors, including clinical psychologist Alfred Bradley Adkins, and others to submit thousands of falsified medical documents to the SSA to fraudulently obtain disability benefits totaling more than $550 million for thousands of individuals.
According to the plea, of a former SSA employee discovering and providing information about the scheme to federal agents, Conn and former SSA administrative law judge Charlie Paul Andrus conspired and acted to have the former SSA employee terminated in an effort to discredit the employee.
Finally, Conn admitted that after pleading guilty in March 2017, and prior to being sentenced on June 2, 2017, he fled the country with the help of Curtis Lee Wyatt by severing the electronic monitoring device from his ankle and fleeing across the Mexican border. 
Conn was originally charged in April 2016, along with Daugherty and Adkins, in an 18-count indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and other related offenses in connection with the disability fraud scheme.
Conn subsequently pleaded guilty on March 24, 2017, to a two-count information charging him with theft of government money and paying illegal gratuities, and he was sentenced in absentia on July 14, 2017 to 12 years in prison on those charges.
After his flight from the United States, Conn was charged, along with Wyatt, in September 2017, in a seven-count indictment with conspiracy to escape, escape and other related offenses.
On Dec. 5, 2017, Conn was returned to the United States from Honduras after being apprehended by Honduran authorities.
Conn’s plea today resolves the outstanding charges against him.
In addition to the 12 years in prison Conn is currently serving, he now faces an additional 15 years in prison. As part of the plea agreement, Conn agreed to recommend to the Court at sentencing that the Court sentence him to the maximum possible sentence, a 15-year sentence, and run that sentence consecutive to the 12-year sentence previously imposed, for a total of 27 years in prison.
Andrus pleaded guilty in June 2016 to a one-count information charging him with conspiracy to retaliate against an informant, and was sentenced Aug. 7, 2017 to six months in prison.
Daugherty pleaded guilty in May 2017 to a two-count information charging him with receiving illegal gratuities, and was sentenced on Aug. 25, 2017, to four years in prison.
Adkins was found guilty following a six-day trial in June 2017 of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of making false statements, and was sentenced on Sept. 22, 2017, to 25 years in prison. Wyatt pleaded guilty in March 2018, and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 29.
(June 6, 2018)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Another NY Cop, Fireman, Bouncer, Muscleman Arrested For Stealing Social Security Disability Benefits

Scott Maraio, 53, was arrested and charged with theft of government funds, making false statements in connection with Social Security disability benefits.
In 2002, at age 37 Maraio claimed he could no longer work as a firefighter, suffering neck and back injuries. He stopped working for the FDNY, began receiving Social Security disability payments.
"I cannot stand or walk for more than a few minutes at a time. I cannot lift or carry more than five pounds," Maraio said in a 2002.
But from 2008 to 2018, he collected more than $364,000 in SS benefits while simultaneously earning over $450,000 as a bouncer, fire safety manager and fireguard.
A Staten Island man who was a cop and firefighter was caught side-gigging as a bouncer at a strip club and television actor while collecting hundreds of thousands on disability, authorities allege.
Scott Maraio, 53, was arrested Wednesday and charged with theft of government funds, making false statements and making false statements in connection with Social Security disability benefits, prosecutors said.
In 2002, a then 37-year-old Maraio claimed he could no longer work as a firefighter after suffering neck and back injuries while on the job. He stopped working for the FDNY, and then began receiving Social Security disability payments, said the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
"I cannot stand or walk for more than a few minutes at a time. I cannot lift or carry more than five pounds," Maraio said in a 2002 disability report, according to the court filing.
But from October 2008 to February 2018, the feds allege the defendant collected more than $364,000 in benefits for himself, his wife and children while simultaneously earning approximately $450,000 as a bouncer, fire safety manager and fireguard.
Maraio, who was a police officer for one year, allegedly did not report the extra income and arranged for the payments to be made to third-party companies, including one owned by his wife called Blondie Consultants.
He did report making about $2,000 working as an extra on television shows from 2007 to 2009, said the complaint.
While a security guard at the strip club from 2008 to 2014, he was in good shape, often on his feet and worked 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shifts, the filing said. His duties included crowd control and checking patrons' identification.
The complaint claims the ex-cop made $110,000 as a security guard at the strip club, and earned around $11,000 in tips from "Beaver Bucks" -- the club's internal form of currency -- he redeemed for cash.
Beginning in 2012, he was working as an independent fire-related contactor at various constriction sites, including Madison Square Garden and Build it Back after Hurricane Sandy, said the complaint. His duties were to prevent fire issues and serving as a fireguard at various events.
Then, last February, Maraio was allegedly caught working full-time as a safety and loss control consultant at a department store construction site in Brooklyn.
Maraio, who public records indicate lives in Great Kills, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Two other defendants, former NYPD detective Kenneth Rubero and ex-officer Gerard Scparta, were charged in separate disability fraud schemes.
From about 1997 up to 2017, Scparta received approximately $638,000 in disability benefits for himself, his wife, and his children, during which time he earned approximately $1.6 million from his work at a strip club, the feds allege.
From about 2008 up to this February, Rubero received a total of approximately $396,000 in disability benefits for himself and his child, during which time Rubero had earned a total of over approximately $720,000 from his work with Baychester and Secure Logistics, authorities said.
"As alleged, these three defendants, all former law enforcement officers, told lie after lie to obtain a total of over one million dollars in disability benefits through fraud," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. "In doing so, they allegedly took money from truly disabled individuals who are dependent on this important source of public support.  Scparta and Maraio also allegedly concealed their employment and income from the Social Security Administration by hiding behind corporate entities purportedly owned by their wives."

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

People Are Dying To Get A Hearing

Short staffing leads to long waits for Social Security disability hearing decisions


The Social Security Administration’s main campus is seen in Woodlawn, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Robert Steers of Southington, Conn., was an Army captain who served in Afghanistan. He also served his country looking for contraband with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Now, he’d like to get decent service from the Social Security Administration (SSA), but he won't.
As many Americans know, this can be an exasperating experience, filled with endless waits and growing frustration.
Infuriating encounters have earned federal disability programs a spot on the Government Accountability Office’s “high-risk” list, and Steers’s fight with Social Security shows why. Congress is increasingly concerned.
PTSD and worsening depression left Steers, 54, unable to work. He was medically retired from the Army and received an “individual unemployability” determination from the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA considered him at high risk for suicide, according to his attorney.
With this history, getting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) seems like a no-brainer. But Steers applied in April 2012 and was denied. To appeal, he requested a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ) in May 2013. It took almost two years to be denied again in March 2015. After appealing to federal court, his case was sent back to the administrative law judge in December 2016.
It is now April 2018 — six years after his initial application — and Steers is still waiting to find out if he’ll get the insurance. Even an inquiry from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who claimed to be a VietNam combat veteran, but lied, three years ago hasn’t sped the pace.
“Reducing the Back Log, wait times for a hearing decision is of utmost importance to the Social Security Administration…” said Mark Hinkle, an agency spokesperson. “For several years in a row, the agency received a record number of hearing requests, due primarily to the aging of the baby boomers as they entered their disability-prone years. We also received an increase in applications during the economic recession and its aftermath. During this time, our resources to address disability claims did not keep pace with the increase in applications and backlogs grew. Primarily for these reasons, wait times for a hearing and the number of pending hearings began to rise.”
The current number of pending hearings is about 986,000 and the average wait for a hearing decision is about three years, 600 days. That’s after 15 consecutive months of reducing the number of people waiting for a hearing decision.
“I think SSA does not have the staff it needs,” said Iván A. Ramos, Steers’s lawyer in Hartford, Conn. “When you call a hearing office, nobody answers the phone, and when you go to the office you just stand in front of an empty window until someone finally shows up to help you. Many of my clients have trouble paying for food and shelter while they wait for their disability claims to be processed. Seeing what many of my clients and their families have to go through, just to get a hearing, has become the hardest part of my job.”
Staffing and service issues have plagued Social Security for years, and President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2019 would make things worse. The disability hearing process can be particularly vexing because there are too few administrative law judges, who hear appeals, and they have too few support staff members.
“I am concerned that the increasing strain on the adjudicatory process frustrates the mission of the Social Security Administration (SSA),” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs federal management subcommittee, wrote in a March 19 letter to the agency. “Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) perform an essential judiciary function in the United States and as a direct result of the current caseload, claimants may be forced to wait up to two years for a decision on their claim.
“This is not an acceptable constraint on due process.”
Not acceptable, but also not unusual.
 (Above, Left, Marilyn Zahm, an administrative law judge in Buffalo and president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ).
“In 2016, the Social Security Administration received over 2.3 million disability claims, 630,000 more cases than in 2002. Unfortunately, the SSA has not added the personnel, technology or efficiencies needed to address this steady surge,” said Marilyn Zahm, an administrative law judge in Buffalo and president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ). “We now face a crushing backlog of cases, adding long wait times and painful uncertainty to a process that should be swift and secure.”
Zahm said 2.6 hours “is the average amount of time that a judge is allotted to adjudicate a case,” based on 500 dispositions annually, “the quota mandated by the agency.”
That little time “is not fair to the claimant, the government or the judge,” she added. “Mandating unreasonable quotas leads to inaccurate decision-making in many instances.”
SSA planned to hire 250 ALJs annually from fiscal 2016 through fiscal 2018, which ends Sept. 30. This rate of hiring was needed “to reduce average appeals wait times for hearing decisions to its goal of 270 days by the end of fiscal year 2020,” the GAO report said. Two hundred seventy days is almost 10 months.
Social Security hired 264 in 2016, but just 132 in 2017. “As we just received our FY 2018 appropriation, we are currently evaluating our ALJ hiring plan for this year,” Hinkle said.
In September, a report by SSA’s Office of Inspector General found falling levels of hearing office staff, including those who write ALJ decisions, and drooping ALJ productivity. From fiscal 2011 through April 2017, ratios of hearing office staff to ALJs dropped 22 percent, the same decrease in administrative law judge productivity.
“Two main factors related to decreasing ALJ productivity,” the inspector general found, “include decreased staffing ratios and a renewed focus on quality.”
Deciding a case involves “reading the claimant’s record (which may consist of more than 1,000 pages of medical documents), holding a full and fair hearing (listening to the claimant’s testimony and that of expert witnesses), drafting complete instructions according to agency policy, and editing and signing the draft decision,” Zahm said by email.
“We need more staff support and an efficient adjudicatory system,” she added, “rather than management that threatens and browbeats judges to issue more decisions.”
3 Apr 2018.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Will SSA Ever Get The Operating Funds or a Commissioner?

Social Security Gets Funds to Cut Disability Backlog

Buried in the recent Omnibus Spending Bill that kept the U.S. government operating is $100 million for the Social Security Administration that is meant, in part, to fix one of the country’s worst but least-understood embarrassments – a multi-year backlog of people waiting to hear if they can get disability benefits.
But an Omnibus Spending Bill is not a Budget Bill. The differences may be crucial.
Omnibus Spending Bill is not a "Budget". Trump can spend the funds any way he wants. Hope this was his plan.

The Social Security Disability Insurance program is supposed to provide a safety net for people unable to work due to injury or illness. According to the latest SSA statistics, nearly 1 million people remain stuck in a hearing-decision backlog that averages 599 days (20 months). In some cities and states, wait times are up to 772 days.
Most of the people in line have already paid for the benefits through their payroll taxes. Yet they remain frustrated by the backlog. The new funds offer the promise that things will finally improve. Maybe the SSA can even beat its own projection that the backlog can’t be significantly reduced for another four years. But it will have to step up its game to make full use of the money.
In September 2017 testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, Bea Disman, acting chief of staff at the SSA, said the agency was implementing several measures to address the massive backlog. But by the end of 2017, almost no progress had been made on reducing the wait times for applicants, making it the worst in the U.S. government.
This is not just unseemly; it’s tragic. In 2017 alone, more than 10,000 people died waiting to hear if they would be awarded insurance benefits that they had worked for years to earn – a 15 percent increase over the previous year.   
There are several factors that have taken the backlog to a crisis level. First, the SSA has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since 2013, which has limited its ability to tackle this and other challenges. President Obama refused to appoint a Commissioner, and neither has President Trump.
 In addition, the agency has failed to meet its own hiring goal for administrative law judges and support staff who conduct the review hearings, even though it told Congress extra hiring would be a primary tool for reducing the backlog. In fact, only 600 ALJs have been hired over the past three years and only 132 in fiscal year 2017. There is not enough staff to meet the demand.
The SSA requires that applicants provide duplicative medical records of various sorts and then states that it’s overwhelmed by the volume of them.
SSA abolished The Treating Physician Rule
 Due to SSA concerns about subjectivity and physician bias, the agency also no longer assigns greater weight to the opinions of doctors who treat applicants when assessing an individual’s condition and his or her ability to work. Instead it can choose to rely more on the opinion of its own, more cursory, processes to examine the patients or review medical evidence.
 The SSA also doesn’t really take into consideration disability determinations by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, state agencies or private insurers. These entities have disability criteria that are different from the SSA, but their programs are similar enough. These determinations can and should inform SSA decisions and help the SSA avoid a “start from zero” process.
The new funding is welcome and recognizes there’s a problem. But recent data from the SSA indicate the agency is anticipating a dramatic rise in disability applications in 2018 and 2019. So, this story is far from over. Social Security disability benefits remain a complicated mess with no one at the helm to provide strategic leadership to the staff or to the judges who must assess the claims of former workers and their families.
Jim Allsup is chairman and CEO of Allsup LLC, a national disability representation organization and Social Security-authorized Employment Network based in Belleville, Ill.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Benefit, Welfare, Entitlement, Annuity, or Retirement, Just What Is Social Security?

shared Liz DeVolder's post.
Liz DeVolder
Remember, not only did you and I contribute to Social Security but your employer did, too. It totaled 15% of your income before taxes.
If you averaged only $30K over your working life, that's close to$220,500.
Read that again.
Did you see where the Government paid in one single penny?
We are talking about the money you and your employer put in a Government bank to ensure you and me that we would have a retirement check from the money we put in, not the Government.
Now they are calling the money we put in an entitlement when we reach the age to take it back.
If you calculate the future invested value of $4,500 per year (yours & your employer's contribution) at a simple 5% interest (less than what the Government pays on the money that it borrows).
After 49 years of working you'd have$892,919.98.
If you took out only 3% per year, you'd receive $26,787.60 per year and it would last better than 30 years (until you're 95 if you retire at age 65) and that's with no interest paid on that final amount on deposit!
If you bought an annuity and it paid 4% per year, you'd have a lifetime income of $2,976.40 per month.
Entitlement my foot; I paid cash for my social security insurance!
Just because they borrowed the money for another government spending, doesn't make my benefits some kind of charity or handout!!
Remember the benefits for members of Congress?
+ free healthcare,
+ outrageous retirement packages,
+ 67 paid holidays,
+ three weeks paid vacation,
+ unlimited paid sick days.
Now that's welfare, and they have the nerve to call my social security retirement payments entitlements?
They call Social Security and Medicare an entitlement even though most of us have been paying for it all our working lives, and now, when it's time for us to collect, the government is running out of money.
Why did the government borrow from it in the first place? It was supposed to be in a locked box, not part of the general fund.
Sad isn't it?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

If You Cannot Trust The Clerk At The Social Security Office To Help With Your Case, Who Can You Trust?

Feds say Social Security rep scammed thousands from clients. Then he shot a selfie.


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/crime/article196260704.html#storylink=cpy