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Social Security judge accused of disability scheme

| Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, 8:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A retired Social Security judge in West Virginia collaborated with a lawyer to improperly award disability benefits to hundreds of applicants, according to a report released Monday by congressional investigators.

The report accuses retired administrative law Judge David B. Daugherty of scheming with lawyer Eric C. Conn to approve more than 1,800 cases from 2006 to 2010.

“By 2011, Mr. Conn and Judge Daugherty had collaborated on a scheme that enabled the judge to approve, in assembly-line fashion, hundreds of clients for disability benefits using manufactured medical evidence,” said the report by the staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“The report describes how one lawyer, several judges and a group of doctors took advantage of the situation and exploited the program for their own personal benefit,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said at a committee hearing on Monday. “Together, they moved hundreds of claimants onto the disability rolls based on manufactured medical evidence and boilerplate decisions. As a result, they saw millions of dollars flow their way, promotions at work and had bad behavior ignored.”

Conn runs a law firm that specializes in disability cases in Stanville, Ky., near the West Virginia border. Daugherty, who was a judge based in Huntington, W.Va., retired in 2011 when questions were raised about his relationship with Conn, the report said.

Two doctors who did work for Conn's clients told the committee that they are honest doctors with nothing to hide, although one doctor, Srinivas M. Ammisetty, said it was a mistake for him to sign medical forms that Conn's office had filled out for him. A third doctor, David P. Herr of West Union, Ohio, declined to answer senators' questions, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

According to the report, the Social Security Administration paid Conn's firm more than $4.5 million in attorney fees from cases heard by Daugherty from 2006 to 2010. In 2010, Conn was the third highest-paid disability lawyer in the country, the report said.

Investigators reviewed Daugherty's bank records and found $96,000 in unexplained cash deposits, the report said.

“From 2003 to 2011, Judge Daugherty's bank records contain regularly occurring cash deposits totaling $69,800, the source of which is unexplained in the judge's financial disclosure forms,” the report said. “From 2007 to 2011, his daughter's bank records list similar cash deposits totaling another $26,200. When asked about the $96,000 in cash deposits, Judge Daugherty refused to explain their origin or the source of the funds.”

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