Eric C. Conn, the man responsible for the largest Social Security disability fraud in history, was sentenced in absentia Friday to 12 years in prison, and ordered to pay a staggering sum of nearly $170 million in restitution.
Conn cut off his ankle bracelet last month and remains on the loose — though the FBI says it’s been able to track at least some of his movements.
Amy S. Hess, the special agent in charge at the Louisville FBI, said Conn used an associate’s truck to flee Kentucky, eventually abandoning the vehicle in New Mexico near the border with Mexico. The FBI has even obtained video surveillance of Conn shopping at a gas station and a Walmart in New Mexico.
Agent Hess said they do not think Conn crossed the border to Mexico.
A man purporting to be Conn told local news outlets in Kentucky that he’d managed to escape the U.S. In missives to papers and television stations in Kentucky, West Virginia and to The Washington Times, Conn seemed to taunt authorities for having lost track of him.
The FBI fired back Friday, saying Conn had lost “legitimacy and integrity” and saying they’ve narrowed the net around him by seizing bank accounts and targeting associates who may be trying to help him.
“Conn continues to become isolated from family, friends, and associates who are turning their backs on him or are rendered unable to help him. His resources are continually dwindling,” Agent Hess said.
Conn led a fraud ring that the government says filed $550 million worth of bogus applications for Social Security disability. Conn paid off a team of doctors to write fake medical evaluations, and paid a Social Security administrative law judge to rubber-stamp the bogus applications.
Conn pleaded guilty to the scheme in March, but remained free on bail anyway. He jumped bail early last month, slipping free from his GPS-tracking ankle bracelet on the side of an interstate.
The FBI said the truck Conn fled in is registered by “a co-conspirator to a dummy company in Montana.” The co-conspirator gave other assistance as well, the FBI said — though it didn’t name the person.
There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to Conn’s apprehension.
Conn, according to local news reports in Kentucky, may have been trying to negotiate his own surrender. He seemed perturbed by the FBI’s descriptions of him, including warning the public to show caution in his presence. Conn, according to reports, said one of his terms of surrender was that the FBI recant that warning.
Despite Conn’s insistence that he’s harmless, several of those he was in contact with — including former employees in his law office and the two whistle-blowers at Social Security who exposed the fraud — have said they fear for their safety.
In the meantime, many of Conn’s clients are trying to get their benefits restored from Social Security, and are trying to make a malpractice claim against Conn.
Some 700 people have had their benefits restored, but 800 have had them cut off.
“The negative impact of Conn’s presence in our community will be felt for generations,” Agent Hess said.
One administrative law judge also pleaded guilty to being part of the scheme, and a psychologist was convicted, for the scheme. They will be sentenced later this year.