Every modern democracy needs a "safety net" to help the poor, sick and impaired -- but it shouldn't be a lucrative system turning lawyers into multi-millionaires and giving fat government checks to anyone with a few health annoyances.
A former Huntington federal hearing examiner, David B. Daugherty, is embroiled in a national fracas over alleged looting of the Social Security disability program. He rubber-stamped virtually every claim filed by a Kentucky lawyer -- and he won't explain certain deposits into his bank account and his daughter's account.
Sunday's "60 Minutes" show outlined the affair. Witnesses said Kentucky lawyer Eric Conn made generous payments to "whore doctors" who signed hundreds of forms affirming that Conn's clients were disabled. Then Judge Daugherty quickly approved more than 1,800 of Conn's claims, giving each client a federal disability check worth about $1,100 per month. Lawyer Conn got $4.5 million in attorney fees from U.S. taxpayers.
On Monday, a Senate committee investigation headed by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., filed a 168-page report covering the Huntington mess. 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. 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 ...."
Nationally, federal examiners reject nearly half of disability claims, but the Huntington judge approved virtually 100 percent. In 2011, two Huntington Social Security clerks filed a whistleblower suit against lawyer Conn and Judge Daugherty under the U.S. False Claims Act. Daugherty resigned after questions were raised.
Various officials told "60 Minutes" that many middle-aged workers lose their jobs, then exhaust their unemployment support and become desperate -- so they file disability claims based on any minor health problems they suffer.
During the show, host Steve Kroft asked Sen. Coburn: "What did you find out in Kentucky and West Virginia?" -- and the senator answered: "Significant fraud."This mess cries out for a Justice Department investigation. We hope U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and the FBI already are delving into it.