Eric Conn’s face can be found on huge billboards throughout Eastern Kentucky, urging people to contact his disability benefits practice, the nation’s third-most lucrative.
Dubbing himself “Mr. Social Security,” Conn shot a music video of his practice, sold women’s short shorts that featured his toll-free number written across the seat, and hired a Miss Kentucky USA winner to conduct public relations for his firm.
Conn, 55, is now under house arrest. On April 5, a federal grand jury issued an indictment, accusing him of participating in a elaborate fraud to bilk the Social Security Administration of millions of dollars in attorneys fees.
The indictment lists three individuals: Conn, retired Social Security Judge David Daugherty, psychologist Bradley Adkins. For years, Conn allegedly paid Adkins $300 to $450 a week to submit fraudulent medical records. Conn then allegedly paid Judge Daugherty up to $9,500 monthly to maneuver the Social Security Administration’s bureaucracy so that all of Conn’s cases were assigned to him, which he subsequently approved, as detailed by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Between 2004 and 2012, Conn obtained nearly $600 million in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, collecting nearly $23 million in attorneys fees. These fees came directly from taxpayer money via the Social Security Administration, which deducts attorneys fees from benefits disbursed to recipients.
Conn’s practices have long faced heavy scrutiny. The subject of an extensive 2011 Wall Street Journal story, Conn was called to testify in front of a Senate investigation committee in 2013, where he plead the Fifth Amendment.
“I hope these guys rot in jail for stealing money we didn’t have on behalf of people who weren’t really proven to be disabled,” former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who led a 2013 Senate investigation, told the Lexington Herald Leader. “The claimants in this case were not innocent. They knew a scam was going on. Some of them may actually be disabled, but they got themselves a shyster lawyer.
In May 2015, the Social Security Administration cut off benefits to about 900 individuals formerly represented by Conn, to conduct reviews of their claims. The move prompted a class-action lawsuit, filed by the Pillersdorf Law Firm, against the SSA, contending that the agency violated the beneficiaries’ due process rights.
The SSA promptly reversed and is now reviewing the claims of thousands of former Conn recipients. Those recipients, however, are continuing to receive benefits.
An FBI agent estimated that as much as $5.7 million of these fees may the product of fraudulent claims.
After spending a week in jail, Conn was released April 12 on a $1.25 million bond. This was despite significant evidence that he posed a flight risk, the Courier-Journal reported. Specifically, Conn allegedly funnel money into accounts in 10 different countries, put his $1.9 million mansion up for auction, told former employees he would flee to Ecuador and told two other people he would go to Cuba.
The 18-count indictment includes charges of mail fraud and wire fraud, conspiracy to retaliate against a witness, destruction of evidence, making false statements and money laundering. The more serious charges come with sentences of 20 years.
A 2013 profile of Conn, from the Lexington Herald-Leader can be read here.