WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKYT/AP) - Pleading his fifth amendment rights, a Kentucky attorney accused of scheming with a retired Social Security judge to improperly award disability benefits to hundreds of applicants refused to testify before Congressional lawmakers Monday night.
A new report by the staff of a Senate committee says retired judge David B. Daugherty approved claims in, quote, "assembly-line fashion," using manufactured medical evidence.
The report accuses Daugherty of plotting with lawyer Eric C. Conn of Floyd County to approve more than 1,800 cases from 2006 to 2010.
Conn runs a law firm specializing in disability cases. The report says Daugherty, who was a judge in Huntington, W. Va., retired in 2011 after questions were raised about his relationship with Conn.
Conn was scheduled to testify Monday night at a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee which produced the report but told members he would plea the fifth amendment and not testify.
Investigators say Conn has been putting many unqualified people on the disability payroll, all on the taxpayer's dime.
Of the fifty states, Kentucky ties Alabama for the third highest percentage of its population on disability. Only Arkansas and West Virginia have more.
"One lawyer, several judges, and a group of doctors took advantage of the situation exploited the program for their own personal benefit. Together, they moved hundreds of claimants onto the disability rolls based on manufactured medical evidence and boiler plate decisions," remarked Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn during Monday's hearing.
Conn's legal offices are located inside a mobile home compound in Floyd County, the county that ties Pike for first with the highest percentage of people on disability assistance in the state. The ten counties in the state with the highest percentages of people on disability are all in eastern Kentucky.
"Repeatedly lower level social security employees and administrative law judges warned senior personnel about the improper case assignments, Mr. Conn's out sized influence over the office, and the mishandling of his cases by Administrative Law Judge Daugherty, but nothing was done," noted Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, "the evidence exposes the inept almost nonexistent oversight by social security officials that allowed the abuses to continue for years."
Senator Coburn said the plan involved Judge David Daugherty moving large numbers of disability cases to his docket, all of them Eric Conn clients, and approving almost all of them for disability benefits.
Senator Coburn says Conn paid a group of doctors hundreds of thousands of dollars to be part of the plan.
Senators first questioned former and current employees of the Huntington, West Va. Social Security Office, former employees of Eric Conn, and physicians that worked with Conn's clients.
Jennifer Griffith, who used to work for the Social Security Administration, testified that she faced retaliation for speaking out, and that her complaints for ignored for years.
She says she had to quit her job because her health was failing from retaliation.
Daugherty was scheduled to testify before the Senate committee Monday, but committee members were told that he had already left the capitol building.