The Kentucky lawyer who led one of the biggest Social Security frauds in history removed his electronic monitoring device and appears to be on the run, the FBI said late Saturday, writing the latest chapter in a bizarre soap opera that’s embarrassed the government and left hundreds of people struggling.
Eric C. Conn pleaded guilty just months ago to bilking the government out of potentially $550 million in bogus Social Security disability cases.
He had been free on a $1.25 million bond since 2016, and had insisted to a federal judge that he was not a flight risk, even though authorities said he had repeatedly told his employees he had money stashed overseas and would flee to Ecuador or Cuba if he ever ended up legal trouble.
On Saturday the FBI said the court has now issued an arrest warrant for Conn.
“In violation of bond, Mr. Conn removed his electronic monitoring device and his whereabouts is currently unknown,” the FBI said.
The FBI said anyone with information about Conn’s location should contact the FBI in Louisville at 502/263-6000.
Conn was awaiting sentencing next month for his role in the disability scheme, in which he kept a stable of doctors prepared to write false medical reports, and paid off a Social Security administrative law judge to approve the applications with no questions asked, according to his plea agreement.
All told, nearly 1,750 bogus cases were approved in the scheme, which netted Conn and his associates nearly $6 million.
“I’m very concerned for Eric,” said Scott White, Conn’s lawyer, in a statement to The Washington Times. “It’s a defense attorney’s worst nightmare as not only has he placed himself at very real risk, but law enforcement and the public.
“It’s tragic because by accepting responsibility and being willing to testify he had the opportunity to restart his life,” Mr. White said. “Just very sad and we pray he snaps out of it and turns himself in. It’s not too late to fix this if he does.”
Conn was expected to testify against Alfred B. Adkins, a psychologist who would rubber-stamp the disability application medical reports that Conn would then send to the administrative law judge, David B. Daugherty.
Daugherty pleaded guilty last month and is also awaiting sentencing.
Conn was well known throughout eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, where he called himself “Mr. Social Security” and promised an uncanny ability to win disability benefits for his clients. He even had a crew of “Conn Hotties,” young women he dispatched to community events in skin-tight T-shirts that advertised his law firm and its phone number, 1-800-232-HURT.
After the scheme was reported in The Wall Street Journal in 2011, Conn began to destroy documents detailing the fraud, and even had one of his law firm employees falsify a video to try to get a whistleblower fired by discrediting her, according to court documents.
Courts have ordered Mr. Conn and his law firm to pay more than $36 million in restitution, damages and penalties.
As Conn was indicted, fear spread through the Kentucky and West Virginia communities that had relied on him as Social Security sent out notices canceling benefits.
Ned Pillersdorf, a Kentucky lawyer who took up Conn’s clients’ cause, said at least three suicides were directly linked to the payment suspensions, and perhaps three others could also be linked.
As of several months ago, Social Security was still trying to figure out how to handle the disability cases.