A former chief regional Social Security judge was sentenced Monday to six months in federal prison for scheming to retaliate against an employee who blew the whistle on alleged fraud by Floyd County disability lawyer Eric Conn.
Charlie Paul Andrus pleaded guilty in June 2016 to conspiring with Conn to interfere with a person’s employment. Conn has been a fugitive since June 2017.
After serving six months in prison, Andrus will be on home detention for two months. He also must pay a $20,000 fine, according to the sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves.
In a statement to the court, Andrus said he’d had a lot of advantages.
“For those given a lot, a lot is expected,” he said. “I failed. I failed my profession. For that, I am profoundly sorry.”
Andrus apologized to Sarah Carver, a woman who formerly worked in the Huntington, W.Va., Social Security office and was the subject of the retaliation. Judges in that office rule on appeals for Social Security disability benefits from people who had been denied payments. The office serves Eastern Kentucky and other areas.
“I was hurt, I was humiliated, and I blamed her,” Andrus said. “I want to apologize for any anxiety ... I may have caused her. I regret it deeply.”
Carver, who later read a lengthy statement before Judge Reeves pronounced the sentence, listened to Andrus’s apology from the courtroom gallery. After the sentencing, Carver said, “I’m glad he was sentenced and that he received a period of incarceration. I don’t feel it was enough for the crime he committed.”
And did she accept the apology?
“I don’t feel his apology was sincere,” Carver said. “I feel he was more concerned about himself and his image.”
Andrus, 67, was once the chief administrative law judge in the Huntington office.
Conn, 56, was once one of the top disability lawyers in the country. He represented thousands of people in successful claims for benefits from the Social Security Administration and made millions in fees.
In March, however, Conn admitted that it was an enterprise built on fraud. Conn outlined a massive, long-running conspiracy in which he put false evidence of clients’ physical or mental disabilities in their claims, paid pliable doctors to sign forms with little scrutiny, and bribed a Social Security judge who approved claims for thousands of Conn’s clients.
The judge, David B. Daugherty, who retired when he came under investigation in 2011, pleaded guilty to getting $609,000 in bribes.
Conn was on home detention after he pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing. On June 2, he was in Lexington, with court permission, to meet with prosecutors and his attorney. That evening, Conn cut the electronic monitoring device from his ankle and fled. He has been a fugitive since.
Federal agents went to the Huntington office in May 2011 to gather evidence and interview people as part of an investigation of Conn and Daugherty.
Andrus admitted that he knew that an employee in the office was giving information to investigators.
In a July 13 letter to Judge Reeves, Andrus wrote: “It appeared to me that my victim, an employee who had been disciplined in the past for submitting false time entries and making false statements, was in charge and calling the shots. Any grievance she raised seemed to provoke an action from higher management to accommodate her. I remember thinking that if she insisted that others pay a price for their actions, so should she.”
Carver charged in her own civil lawsuit that Andrus thought 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.
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 who sent it to the wrong address, Carver alleged in the lawsuit.
The efforts didn’t catch Carver violating policy, but she later left the office.
In a statement she read in court, Carver said: “Seeing something and saying something should not be a career-ender to any whistleblower.”
At Andrus’ direction, “I was constantly being over-evaluated, watched, stalked, harassed and interrogated,” Carver said. “While Andrus has pled guilty to retaliation of a witness, this charge understates the true scope and impact of Andrus’ lengthy pattern of unlawful conduct, abuse of power of a public leader and servant.”
Still unresolved is the issue of restitution of Carver’s travel expenses and other costs that she incurred for her cooperation with the government. Reeves scheduled an Aug. 28 hearing to discuss the amount of restitution.
Andrus is scheduled to report to prison on Oct. 2. The site will be determined by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.