Paul Stribling Conger, Jr., a former Social Security Administration judge in Tuscaloosa, has proven to be the exception -- he was stupid enough to get caught.
Conger, age 73 of Akron, Alabama, could wind up in prison for giving a woman SSI benefits in exchange for sex. Conger has pleaded guilty to federal charges of obstructing justice, theft of government property, and accepting a gratuity. This sounds like a classic case of bribery, based on a quid pro quo ("something for something") agreement. Why is Conger not facing that charge? It isn't clear, but perhaps the government agreed to forego that whopper charge in exchange for guilty pleas on lesser offenses.
Here is the official U.S. Department of Justice press release on the case.
Federal agents had been investigating Conger for trading Social-Security benefits for sex. According to court documents, Conger initially denied having sex with the woman. But that proved to be a lie. (Another question: Why isn't Conger charged with lying to federal agents? Is the judge getting a sweetheart deal here?)
A report from wtva.com provides details, based on charges and Conger's plea agreement:
In July 2013, Conger presided over the claims hearing of a woman identified in court documents as T.M., who subsequently was approved for SSI benefits, including future monthly payments and retroactive benefits. In November 2013, T.M. discussed Conger with a mutual acquaintance of theirs and was given information that led her to approach the judge about receiving her retroactive SSI benefits in a lump sum of about $10,000.
On Nov. 19, 2013, T.M. met Conger in his chambers at the Tuscaloosa federal courthouse, seeking the lump sum benefits payment. There, the two engaged in sexual activity. Over ensuing weeks, they remained in contact through phone calls and text messages. Conger is charged with illegal receipt of a gratuity for his conduct with T.M.
He is charged with theft of government property for using T.M.’s records from the SSA database to learn more about her. The information included medical records and identifiers such as her Social Security number.
Conger is charged with obstruction for attempting to obtain T.M.’s cell phone and destroy it after learning that he was the subject of a workplace complaint and an OIG investigation. According to the court records, Conger paid someone, “Individual B,” to obtain the phone and provided the individual with material from T.M.’s SSA file to help that person find her.
As further alleged, Conger falsely told federal agents that he never had any physical or sexual contact with a claimant, including T.M., even after being notified that he was the target of a federal grand jury investigation.
The maximum penalty for obstruction is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the gratuity charge is two years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the maximum penalty for the theft of government property charge is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Speaking of sleaze, get a load of this quote from Conger's attorney, Mark White, of the Birmingham firm White Arnold Dowd:
"This unfortunate situation represents an anomaly in the long, distinguished career of an excellent judge and a good person. Judge Conger has accepted responsibility for his actions and is prepared to face the consequences."
White wants us to believe that Conger was a noble and honorable guy until he woke up one morning, while in his 70s, and suddenly decided to trade SSI benefits for sex? My guess is that Conger has been getting away with such behavior for years. If that doesn't test your gag reflex, I'm not sure anything will.
Judge Conger apparently kept a low profile online, but this appears to be his son, Paul Stribling Conger III.
Here is a record of Judge Conger's SSI rulings over the past six years. Looks like he approved roughly 75 percent of his cases, which I suspect is an extremely high approval rating for an SSI judge. Does that mean a lot of people appearing before Conger were willing to "put out" for the judge?
And what about judges who have been close to Conger over the years? Did his sleaze rub off on them? It's hard to say at this time, but one of his proteges is U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler who clerked under Conger.