A lawyer who ran a $550 million Social Security disability fraud scheme cut off the ankle bracelet monitoring his movements and is now on the run, according to the FBI.
Eric C. Conn (yeah, that’s his real name) pleaded guilty last month to bilking the government out of a potential $550 million in Social Security disability benefits. He has left in dire straits hundreds of his clients who will now have to reapply for benefits.
This was no nickel-and-dime operation. Conn had a stable of dozens of doctors who made the false determinations of eligibility and had a Social Security law judge in his pocket to approve the cases.
“I’m very concerned for Eric,” said Scott White, Mr. 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.”
“Its 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. Its 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.
Give Mr. Conn an “A” for creativity and give the Social Security Administration an “F” for effort. There have got to be some tells the SSA should have picked up on to prevent Conn and his associates from getting so far for so long. Clients from a small geographical area, a judge that approved hundreds of applications, and the same lawyer involved in these cases might have set off alarm bells in a bureaucracy that loses billions every year due to fraud and waste.
Without the whistleblower turning Conn in, lord knows how long his scheme would have continued.