A Scar on the System- the rest of the story
An investigation that began with a bizarre crash and confession prompts action and change in the Indiana court system. In the next phase, a stonewalling bureaucracy and another potential pool of victims that numbers in the thousands.
Since he crashed his car and admitted to police that he falsified a mental evaluation in a criminal case in August of 2016, WNIN has been working on the potential impact of Bloomington, Indiana, psychologist Albert Fink's crime on a much larger pool of victims.
Over the course of our year-long investigation, we have reported extensively on Fink's own charges and what they mean for the many criminal cases for which he performed mental competency exams.
The rest of the story
What we haven't reported on previously are the over ten thousand cases for which 85-year-old Albert Fink provided exams and testing for Social Security Administration(SSA) disability claims, beginning at age 73.
Early in our investigation, we talked with local psychologist Bob Wilson. Bob said that he first met Fink when they both worked on a disability claim. That case with Bob Wilson was one of 10,567 that Fink worked on for Social Security.
If Albert Fink took shortcuts for SSA exams as he did for the courts, people who should be getting aid might have had their claims denied, partially based on Fink's report. Likewise, people who shouldn't be getting aid may have had their claims approved based on a report written in a way to avoid scrutiny.
Several Freedom of Information Act requests, denials, appeals and mediation later, we still don't know much about Albert Fink's work for Social Security, except the total number of cases for which he was paid over $1.6 million between 2006 and 2016.
"This guy's an entreprenuer, isn't he? Wow."
The total number of Fink's cases is staggering. We talked with other psychologists who say a third as many cases over the ten years Fink performed the evaluations would have constituted a full-time workload under normal conditions.
Dr. Michael Pisano of Indianapolis has performed over 500 consultative exams for the Indiana Disability Determination Bureau. He says his interviews for those claims take at least an hour each.
When we showed him the database of Fink's total payments from the state of Indiana, Pisano was astonished. "I don't think I've made that much in my whole life. This guy's an entrepreneur, isn't he? Wow."
Gisela Fischer had a mental exam for a disability claim with Albert Fink in 2013. Her claim was eventually denied. However, in recounting her exam, she gave us an important clue on how Albert Fink conducted his work for FSSA.
"He asked me the normal questions you would expect to get if someone is having psychological issues. Then, he asked me if I thought I had any psychological issues, and I said no."
How long did it take? "I don't imagine it was more than 15-20 minutes. I was a little surprised that he didn't have a receptionist or anyone else working with him."
As we noted in previous reports, court officials in Indiana have been relatively open to answering questions about the Fink case and possible solutions. The Indiana public defender's office was willing to alter their process and actually solicit defendants who may have been affected by Fink's crime.
The polar opposite is what we've encountered so far from the state and federal agencies responsible for handling disability claims. For over a year, the Social Security Administration stonewalled our inquiry and would never agree to a face to face interview.
Regional communications director Doug Nyugen ignored our questions for several months. He only recently agreed to answer email questions after we sent contributor Ron Brown to his office in Chicago. We learned from that response that Nyugen notified the SSA's Office of the Inspector General after we informed him in August of 2016 about Fink's felony charges and his active practice in disability claims.
What about FSSA?
The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) contracts with SSA to handle disability claims through a department known as the Disability Determination Bureau(DDB). The DDB also hires, monitors and pays all the vendors, such as Albert Fink, who perform exams and testing for those claims.
However, FSSA has repeatedly denied any responsibility for disability claims. Even when we ask about those services the DDB does provide, FSSA refers us to the Social Security Administration for comment.
It seemed unusual that an agency would do the work, including paying the providers, but have no responsibility for it. We asked Indiana Auditor Tera Klutz if she knows of any department in state government where that situation exists. She said, "No, in fact I would have a hard time with that. If I'm responsible for paying a vendor, I would want to have some assurance that the vendor is providing the services that we are paying them for."
The email response from the SSA's Doug Nyugen also clearly places the responsibility for Albert Fink's work with FSSA. It says, "Each state agency is responsible for comprehensive oversight management of its CE (Consultative Exam) program. The Professional/Medical Relations Officers for the states are responsible for monitoring CE providers and resolving service issues."
As of this posting, FSSA is reconsidering our request for an interview.
We will continue to follow this case and provide any updates on whether Social Security intends to contact the claimants involved in Fink's cases and whether they will review any of the claims on which he worked in light of his felony conviction for falsifying a similar exam in a criminal case.
The Fund for Investigative Journalism provided financial support for this project. Support also came from the public documents database company Doxpop.