Shameless Social Security Disability Scams

In Utah a video was discovered that depicted a 40-year old man rocking out to music while playing an air guitar. Another video showed a 31-year old woman playing the drums at one of her band’s concerts. These videos would be amusing or entertaining if they were not evidence of social security disability fraud. The 40-year old man had been collecting thousands of dollars in disability payments claiming that his sore muscles would not allow him to work or leave his house. The 31-year drummer had been collecting social security disability checks for 4 years based on suffering from a mental impairment that resulted in “low energy.” Fraudulent social security disability scams are not new. The media regularly reports videos and other evidence of purportedly disabled people engaged in vigorous activities that would be difficult if not impossible if the worker was truly injured or in some other way incapable of earning an income. However, a recent scam that was uncovered by the federal government is particularly shocking as it involved an attorney and a judge.

Conn and Daugherty
Attorney runs a private law practice in Stanville, Kentucky that focuses on helping clients secure Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. According to a report issued by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Social Security Administration (SSA) paid Conn over $4.5 million in attorney’s fees from 2006 to 2010. This made Conn the 3rd highest paid disability lawyer in the country. All of these fees were from cases heard by Judge David B. Daugherty, a SSA administrative judge. Of the 1375 cases brought before Daugherty by Conn only 4 were denied, giving Conn 99.7% approval rate. A South Carolina disability attorney notes that this is astounding considering that on average the social security disability approval percentage of cases reviewed by administrative judges is only 62%.

The Conn-Daugherty scheme was brought to the attention of officials by whistle-blowers. The ensuing investigating uncovered the use of physicians with suspended licenses, $96,000 in unexplained deposits to Daugherty’s bank accounts, the use of disposable cell phones, shredding of tons of documents, and the destruction of computer hard drives. Daugherty has since retired and Conn is being investigated by the Department of Justice.

Rampant Social Security Fraud
While the facts and figures associated with the Conn-Daugherty scam are surprising, this scam is only a small part of the overall problem of fraud involved in SSDI benefits. SSDI fraud takes several different forms including making false statements on an SSDI application, using falsified documents such as an altered social security card, or concealing information, such as failing to report an improvement in a medical condition or failing to report the death of a recipient. A report recently released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations discovered that fraud is so rampant that the Social Security Disability Trust Fund could run out of funds in 18 months. In recent years the number of people receiving SSDI benefits has skyrocketed from 6 million in 2002, to 9.4 million in 2010 and as of August, 2013, 13 million. SSA officials attribute the increase to the aging population. However, a simple gleaning of records show sloppy work in the review and processing of applications and a clear effort to quickly work through the backlog of cases. As a result it has become relatively easy to get away with fraud. For example, the SSA is supposed to conduct Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) to determine the status of claimants. Due to lack of sufficient staff CDRs are not routinely completed. Because of this scams such as the one perpetrated by an Oregon woman who collected her father’s SSDI checks for 26 years after he died, are widespread and often go undetected.

How to Stop the Fraud
The Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General set up a hotline for people to phone in tips on SSDI fraud. A report can be anonymous, but the SSA encourages people to disclose their names as it makes it easier to investigate the possible fraud. For the 5 month period from October 1, 2011 through March 30, 2012, the OIG received 63,368 allegations of fraud. Based on these allegations the SSA opened 3,969 cases that resulted in 703 criminal convictions.

While the hotline, CDRs, and other procedures that the SSA has in place are necessary, they are clearly not the complete answer to the problem. The SSA has an annual budget of over $12 billion with a deficit of $47 billion at the end of 2012. Clearly more emphasis needs to be focused on ridding the system of fraudulent claimants. Do you think new procedures need to be implemented? Or should more of an effort be made to make current systems, such as the CDRs, effective?

Bankruptcy Lawyer And Other Legal Jobs That Require Minimal Time In The Courtroom

If you have a degree in law, but are either suffering from burnout in your current vocation as a lawyer, just want to try something new, or you are a recent graduate who can’t find work as a lawyer in the ever-tightening job market, all hope is not lost. Because of its focus on law and negotiation skills, a law degree opens the door to many more career opportunities than most other degrees. These careers don’t involve courtrooms and trials, and most of them are very well paid positions, too. It is also important to note that not all practice areas will put you keep you in the courtroom on a daily basis. Practice areas like business law, patent law and bankruptcy law (for Bankruptcy in Maui, the previous link is an excellent example) will allow you to be a lawyer and handle much of your business outside of the courtroom.

Employment Benefits Manager

As an employment benefits manager, your job will be to create or modify, and maintain, the entire benefits package of a corporation. The fact that there are so many local, state and federal laws surrounding benefits that must be interpreted and followed makes you a much more viable candidate for the position than most others. As an employment benefits manager you would currently earn an average of$89,456 a year.

Banking and Finance Advisor

With a law degree, you are a shoo-in for finance or banking because the finance sector essentially deals in nothing but law. In the areas of taxes, estates, and business finance, your law degree would make you a perfect fit. Of course, there are a number of occupations to explore in this field, so the salary earned can vary. However, the current average salary of a financial advisor is$83,000 a year.

Politics and Government

If you’re looking for a career that’s a bit nobler, entering politics or working for the government are great options. Law graduates have the opportunity to effect change through policy when working for the government, and, as a politician, you will be center stage in putting those changes into effect. Unfortunately, there’s no way to gauge the salary since this is such a broad category.

Mediator

Obviously no law degree is required to become a mediator, but your knowledge of and comfort with the law will prove to be very effective in this profession. As a mediator you will put to use the negotiation skills you developed in law school. The pay scale for a mediator can vary pretty significantly, depending on the industry in which you work. However, mediators in the legal services sector currently average around$114,000 a year.

Teaching

This one is fairly obvious, but with a law degree you can teach at just about any level. Of course, you may have to seek teaching credentials, but a career as a teacher or professor can be very rewarding. If you choose to become a law professor, it’s also pretty lucrative. The current median salary for a law professor is$111,607 a year.

These represent just a handful of the opportunities available to those who hold law degrees. As someone who is trained in and comfortable with interpreting law, as well as the art of negotiation, you will stand out from the rest of the applicants in nearly every professional field.

Moscow: Punk-Rock Prank Leads to Two Year Prison Sentence

The History of Soviet “Hooliganism”
On February 21, 2012, five members of the all-girl punk rock group, Pussy Riot, staged a “punk prayer” inside one of Russia’s most prominent Orthodox Churches. In their protest, which lasted mere moments, the group members denounced what they perceived as Vladimir Putin’s regime and his ties to the Orthodox community.

For their minor protest, which the Russian government labeled as “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, the five women (two in absentia – they fled Russia) were each sentenced to two years in prison.

From the moment of their arrest, through their trial, and up to their subsequent sentencing, the ladies of Pussy Riot have had the backing of almost the entire Western world. World leaders from the United States, France, Britain, and the European Union called the ladies sentence “disproportionate”. Musicians including Madonna, Sting, Paul McCartney, and Peter Gabriel came out in support of the women in an effort to use their celebrity to affect change. Amnesty International even got involved. It was to no avail. Apparently, hooliganism is a big deal in Russia, but what exactly is it?

What is Hooliganism?
An accepted definition of hooliganism is a group of people (usually youth) who join together to commit illegal acts of violence, including damaging property and injuring others. Some define hooliganism in more general terms as simply violent or destructive behavior. In Russia, however, the definition of hooliganism is a bit different. It is defined as an “average gravity” crime. In other words, it carries a broad definition that can easily be applied to any number of actions, whether destructive or not.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Brian LaPierre, author of Hooligan’s in Khrushchev’s Russia, said the charge of hooliganism is now the “go-to instrument for Russian governments who want to get things done and stigmatize a certain social group. That’s now political protestors, environmentalists or anyone seen to be outside the cultural mainstream.” His words seem to reflect current Russian events with precision.

More Charges of Hooliganism
On September 18, 2013, 30 occupants of the ship “Arctic Sunrise”, were arrested by the Russian Coast Guard after having their ship seized outside of an oil rig off the coast of Russia. The group included 28 Greenpeace activists, a British videographer and a Russian photographer. They were stationed near the oil rig because they were protesting arctic oil drilling. Known as the “Arctic 30”, the group was initially charged with piracy and hooliganism. However, in part because of international pressure, the piracy charge was dropped. The 30 protesters still face up to seven years in prison each for the charge of hooliganism. In an October 23, 2013 press release, Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia called the charges “disproportionate”, saying “They arrived at that oil rig in a ship painted with a dove and a rainbow.”

Russian performance artist, Petr Pavlensky, nailed his scrotum to the street in Red Square outside the Kremlin walls on November 10, 2013. In a statement posted at www.themoscowtimes.com, Mr. Pavlensky said he did it in protest of the “police state” and that it was “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of contemporary Russian society.” Originally charged with disorderly conduct which leads to a potential 15-day jail sentence and a 1,000 ruble fine (about $30 U.S.), he has since seen the charge escalate to hooliganism. Mr. Pavlenesky now faces seven years in prison.

To many observers, those who have been charged with and convicted of hooliganism in Russia face “disproportionate” sentences. In other words, for the individuals facing such charges, the punishment does not fit the crime. Still others see something more sinister at play. Personal expression, even if it’s against the establishment, is a universal right that should be protected, not punished.