Fraud of the Month: Flashy lawyer’s $550-million disability con disabled

Where’s Eric Conn?

The feds want to know. So do the Kentucky disability lawyer’s clients — hundreds, many stuck without disability money they desperately need to survive.

Conn engineered the largest federal disability ripoff in U.S. history — nearly $600 million in pilfered taxpayer money, plus a judge bribed to grease disability claims for Conn’s clients.

After pleading guilty, Conn slipped out of his ankle monitoring bracelet and disappeared while awaiting sentencing. He’s still on the run, facing up 12 years or more in federal prison.

Face plastered on billboards
Conn was something of a celebrity in Eastern Kentucky. He built one of the nation’s largest disability practices through quirky, outlandish and pushy self-promotion.

He styled himself as “Mr. Social Security,” plastering his face on billboards around the state. In a TV ad, Conn cruises around town in a Rolls-Royce, pulls up in front of a Lincoln Memorial replica, and banters with a young woman in a trench coat.

Then there’s his 3D commercial. A tiny computer-generated image of Conn frolics on the TV screen. There’s even a music video. The late bluegrass star Ralph Stanley and Amber Ettinger beg Obama to appoint Conn to the Social Security Advisory Board.

Weirdness worked. Thousands of people flocked to his office complex of five connected trailers — with a 19-foot replica of the Lincoln Memorial out front. They hired Conn to have them declared disabled and quickly get a lifetime of Social Security disability money. Some clients were in true pain. Some may have been healthy and just wanted free money for life.

Regardless, Conn made it easy. He bribed a local judge, psychologist and doctors to rubber-stamp claims for clients. Many weren’t even examined, and medical records often were dummied up so the claims would move quickly. Social Security was on the hook for nearly $600 million over the life of the ongoing claims.

Burned records in bonfire
Conn lived in a swanky mansion and relished frequent luxury travel from the legal fees he took in. Two principled federal workers finally reported him, thus starting his downfall.

Conn burned records in a two-day bonfire behind his offices as federal investigators closed in. He pleaded guilty and could spend 12 years or more in federal prison. He also must shell out more than $83 million in fines, penalties and other costs.

A lot of heartache ensued in Eastern Kentucky. Hundreds of clients lost their disability benefits after Conn was convicted. Social Security also is demanding that many clients repay up to $100,000 for disability money going back 10 years.

At least seven clients killed themselves, news reports say.

Slipped out of ankle bracelet
Conn may have bolted the U.S. after slipping out of his ankle monitoring bracelet, news reports say. The FBI is hunting him.

Meanwhile, hundreds of former clients are trying to have their canceled disability benefits restarted. “I’ve got to get these people money quick,” said their new attorney Ned Pillersdorf. “I’ve got 800 people going without, and it’s a real humanitarian crisis.”