A former chief regional Social Security judge has pleaded guilty to scheming to retaliate against an employee who blew the whistle on alleged fraud by flamboyant Floyd County disability lawyer Eric Conn.
Federal prosecutors filed a document Monday charging Charlie Paul Andrus with conspiring with Conn to interfere with a person’s employment.
Prosecutors charged Andrus in Lexington. The court website listed the charge, but did not say Andrus had pleaded guilty.
However, a news release on website of the U.S. Department of Justice said Andrus, 66, had pleaded guilty.
The charge said the intent was to retaliate against the person for providing truthful information about federal crimes.
The charge is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Andrus was once the chief administrative law judge in an office in Huntington, W.Va., where judges rule on appeals for Social Security disability benefits from people who had been denied payments. The office serves Eastern Kentucky and other areas.
Conn, 55, specialized in Social Security claims, winning benefits for thousands of people.
Conn promoted himself aggressively, putting up billboards around Eastern Kentucky, hiring Bluegrass music icon Ralph Stanley for a music video and placing a 19-foot high statue of Abraham Lincoln in the parking lot of his office at Stanville.
Social Security paid $23 million to Conn’s firm from August 2005 through September 2015 for work in disability cases, according to a court document.
In April, however, a federal grand jury charged that Conn had taken part in fraud on a massive scale.
Conn allegedly falsified medical records to make clients appear disabled and paid doctors to approve the fraudulent reports.
He also allegedly paid David B. Daugherty, a judge in the Huntington Social Security office, up to $9,500 a month to rubber-stamp benefits for Conn’s clients.
Daugherty, who retired in 2011, and a Pikeville psychologist, Alfred Bradley Adkins, 44, were charged with Conn.
The indictment said the three conspired to have the Social Security Administration pay a total of $600 million in disability benefits to thousands of people “irrespective” of whether they were entitled to the money.
Conn, Daugherty and Adkins have denied the charges. A trial has not been scheduled.
The charging document filed Monday did not name the person Andrus is charged with trying to retaliate against, but it is likely Sarah Carver, who worked in the Huntington office.
The Department of Justice release said federal agents went to the office in May 2011 to gather evidence and interview people as part of an investigation of Conn and Daughterty.
The release said Andrus admitted he knew an employee in the office was giving information to investigators.
Carver was not named in the release, but charged in her own civil lawsuit that Andrus believed she was the whistleblower and that he and Conn took part in an effort to try to discredit her and get her fired.
The plan was to try to catch Carver violating an office policy allowing employees to work from home.
Andrus is believed to have had another employee give Conn information when Carver was working from home, as well as her home address and the kinds of cars she and her husband owned, according to Carver’s lawsuit.
Conn allegedly then had his employees follow Carver in hopes of catching her away from home when she was supposed to be working from home.
Conn even hired a private investigator who falsified a video against Carver to send to Social Security, but sent it to the wrong address, Carver alleged in the lawsuit.
The efforts did not catch Carver violating policy, but she later left the office. Her lawsuit is pending.
In federal court, Andrus admitted he met with Conn about the whistleblower and that the two “devised and implemented” a plan to discredit the person, according to the Department of Justice.
The charges against Conn include retaliating against a witness.