Impoverished Kentucky coal miners scraped by with crippling injuries and pain, scratching out a sparse living in a declining industry with jobs disappearing.
Along came flamboyant lawyer Eric Conn. He launched an ad blitz that promised folks he’d get them federal disability money to ease their difficult lives.
The glitzy ads set up a $550-million disability insurance flimflam. It was the largest such ripoffs in U.S. history. In the process, Conn drove many clients into deeper despair when their disability money was denied after he was arrested. Some even killed themselves.
The self-styled “Mr. Social Security” built one of the nation’s largest disability practices through self-promotion and thievery. Conn was a celebrity for his loud, nutty billboard and TV ads that saturated the region. He hired a country music star and rapped in Spanish.
Sought lifetime disability money
Thousands of people flocked to his office complex of five connected trailers. They hired Conn to have them declared disabled, and get a lifetime of Social Security disability checks.
Many clients were in pain and urgently needed insurance money. Some people were healthy — they just wanted free insurance money for life.
Conn bribed a local judge, psychologist and doctors to rubber-stamp disability claims for anyone who wanted taxpayer money. Conn was glad to oblige. He took a healthy cut of every client’s disability award.
Many patients weren’t even examined. Medical records often were forged so Conn could quickly slide disability claims through the system and get client money coming in. Social Security was on the hook for nearly $600 million over the life of the claims.
Fugitive found in Honduras
Conn slipped out of his ankle monitoring bracelet after being federally convicted. He fled the U.S. Dogged investigators tracked him down at a Pizza Hut in Honduras six months later. They shipped Conn back to the U.S.
Hundreds of people lost their disability benefits after Conn was busted. Social Security halted payouts while sorting through the mess Conn’s insurance plot had left behind.
Tim Dye is a former coal miner — and Conn client. Social Security stopped his checks after Conn was busted. Dye’s wife sold her jewelry and possessions from their home. She even begged for water from neighbors to make ends meet.
Other Kentuckians lost their homes, and several committed suicide. Thousands of client files molder in Conn’s offices, waiting for the feds to review. People with painful backs and other disabilities are going without money they need to hold their lives and families together.
Disabled Kentuckian snaps
Leroy Burchett was a former crewman on a printing press, and delivery-truck driver. He lived with crippling pain after two spinal surgeries. He snapped after his disability money was cut off due to Conn’s crime.
His wife Emma said on the show American Greed:
“He came through the house yelling and cussing at me and cussing at the kids. … I opened the door and he was sitting on the edge of a bed with a gun. I took that gun away from him. And he said the same words to me again.
“He said, ‘You’re not going to top this. Nothing can fix this.’ He stormed back outside. And my kids were standing right there. And he said, ‘I just can’t take this.’ And he pulled another gun out from behind his back and he shot himself in the chin.”
Conn was handed 27 years in federal prison. That’s all he has to show for years of gaming the federal disability system — and luckless workers like Tim Dye and Leroy Burchett.
Attorney Ned Pillersdorf is trying to help hundreds of honest Kentuckians with their payouts. “I’ve got to get these people money quick,” Pillersdorf told the Kentucky Herald Leader. “I’ve got 800 people going without, and it’s a real humanitarian crisis.”