Daily Court Reporter - News Fugitive lawyer involved in largest Social Security fraud scheme sentenced to 15 years in prison for his escape and related crimes
Fugitive lawyer involved in largest Social Security fraud scheme sentenced to 15 years in prison for his escape and related crimes
A former fugitive and social security disability lawyer was sentenced to 15 years in prison today for his role in retaliating against an informant and fleeing from the United States. The sentence is to run consecutive to the 12 years in prison previously imposed for his role in the underlying scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration (SSA) of more than $550 million.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Michael McGill of the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General’s (SSA-OIG) Philadelphia Field Division; Special Agent in Charge Amy S. Hess of the FBI’s Louisville, Kentucky Field Division; Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Cincinnati Ohio Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Atlanta Regional Office made the announcement.
Eric Christopher Conn, 58, of Pikeville, Kentucky, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves of the Eastern District of Kentucky, who also ordered Conn to pay $72,574,609 in restitution. On June 4, Conn was convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of conspiracy to escape, and one count of conspiracy to retaliate against an informant. Judge Reeves further ordered that the 15-year term of imprisonment imposed run consecutive to the 12-year term of imprisonment the Court imposed on July 12, 2017, for convictions of paying illegal gratuities to a Social Security Administrative Law Judge and theft of government money. In total, for his role in the largest fraud scheme in the history of the Social Security program, Conn was sentenced to serve 27 years in prison.
“After orchestrating a massive $550 million social security fraud, Eric Conn tried to escape justice by fleeing to Honduras,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “But thanks to the tremendous work of U.S. law enforcement, not only was Conn’s fraud discovered and prosecuted, he was brought back to the United States to answer for his crimes. This case should serve as a strong warning to those who think they can steal from our taxpayer funded programs and escape liability: our law enforcement partners will find you and you will be brought to justice.”
“Mr. Conn directed a scheme that defrauded millions of dollars from Social Security and affected many people in Kentucky and West Virginia,” said SSA-OIG Special Agent in Charge McGill. “Despite his best efforts to escape justice for his actions, Mr. Conn has finally been held accountable with today’s significant sentencing. The SSA-OIG thanks all of our law enforcement partners for their assistance during this investigation, and we remain committed to pursuing Social Security fraud and improving disability program integrity.”
“Conn’s sentencing brings closure to the promise the FBI made that we would not rest until Conn was held accountable for the lives he devastated and the trust he betrayed,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Hess.
“Theft from American taxpayers in any capacity is a serious crime,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner. “Eric Conn’s actions were particularly egregious, as he victimized those who are most vulnerable and then made a cowardly attempt to escape punishment. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of our law enforcement partners and their commitment to seeking justice for all Americans, Conn was made to face the consequences of his actions.”
“When individuals are approved for certain Social Security and SSI benefits, they become entitled to Medicare or Medicaid,” said HHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Jackson. “As a result, a large portion of Conn’s fraudulent scheme drained federal health care plans and cheated needy patients out of the limited dollars available for these vital taxpayer-funded programs.”
According to admissions made as part of Conn’s June 2018 plea, from October 2004 to December 2017, Conn participated in a scheme with former SSA administrative law judge David Black Daugherty, multiple doctors, including clinical psychologist Alfred Bradley Adkins, and others to submit thousands of falsified medical documents to the SSA to fraudulently obtain disability benefits totaling more than $550 million for thousands of individuals. According to the admissions, upon a former SSA employee discovering and providing information about the scheme to federal agents, Conn and former SSA administrative law judge Charlie Paul Andrus conspired and acted to have the former SSA employee terminated in an effort to discredit the employee. Finally, Conn admitted that after pleading guilty in March 2017, and prior to being sentenced on June 2, 2017, he fled the country with the help of Curtis Lee Wyatt by severing the electronic monitoring device from his ankle and fleeing across the Mexican border.
Conn was originally charged in April 2016, along with Daugherty and Adkins, in an 18-count indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and other related offenses in connection with the disability fraud scheme. Conn subsequently pleaded guilty on March 24, 2017, to a two-count information charging him with theft of government money and paying illegal gratuities, and, after fleeing, he was sentenced in absentia on July 14, 2017 to 12 years in prison on those charges. After his flight from the United States, Conn was charged, along with Wyatt, in September 2017, in a seven-count indictment with conspiracy to escape, escape and other related offenses. On Dec. 5, 2017, Conn was returned to the United States from Honduras after being apprehended by Honduran authorities.
Andrus pleaded guilty in June 2016 to a one-count information charging him with conspiracy to retaliate against an informant, and was sentenced Aug. 7, 2017 to six months in prison. Daugherty pleaded guilty in May 2017 to a two-count information charging him with receiving illegal gratuities, and was sentenced on Aug. 25, 2017, to four years in prison. Adkins was found guilty following a six-day trial in June 2017 of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of making false statements, and was sentenced on Sept. 22, 2017, to 25 years in prison. Wyatt pleaded guilty in March 2018, and, on June 29, 2018 was sentenced to seven months in prison.
The case was investigated by the SSA-OIG, FBI, IRS-CI and HHS-OIG. Trial Attorneys Dustin M. Davis of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Ann Marie Blaylock and Rebecca Caruso of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section prosecuted the case, with previous co-counsel including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth G. Wright of the District of Maryland and Trey Alford of the Western District of Missouri as well as Investigative Counsel Kristen M. Warden of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
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The Office of the Attorney General was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 (ch. 20, sec. 35, 1 Stat. 73, 92-93), as a one-person part-time position. The Act specified that the Attorney General was to be "learned in the law," with the duty "to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matters that may concern their departments."
However, the workload quickly became too much for one person, necessitating the hiring of several assistants for the Attorney General. As the work steadily increased along with the size of the new nation, private attorneys were retained to work on cases.
By 1870, after the end of the Civil War, the increase in the amount of litigation involving the United States had required the very expensive retention of a large number of private attorneys to handle the workload. A concerned Congress passed the Act to Establish the Department of Justice (ch. 150, 16 Stat. 162), creating "an executive department of the government of the United States" with the Attorney General as its head.
Officially coming into existence on July 1, 1870, the Department of Justice was empowered to handle all criminal prosecutions and civil suits in which the United States had an interest. To assist the Attorney General, the 1870 Act also created the Office of the Solicitor General, who represents the interests of the United States before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 1870 Act remains the foundation for the Department’s authority, but the structure of the Department of Justice has changed over the years, with the addition of the offices of Deputy Attorney General, Associate Attorney General, and the formation of various components, offices, boards and divisions. From its beginning as a one-man, part-time position, the Department of Justice has evolved into the world's largest law office and the chief enforcer of federal laws.
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Date Published: September 20, 2018