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.

DurationĂ‚ 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.”