A former employee of Eric C. Conn pleaded guilty Friday to helping the once prominent disability attorney escape the country last year to avoid sentencing in a federal fraud case.
Curtis Lee Wyatt acknowledged taking a number of steps to help Conn flee, including opening a bank account Conn used to move money out of the country; buying a pickup truck for Conn to use in escaping; and going through two pedestrian crossings from the United States to Mexico to test security procedures at the border.
Wyatt, 48, who lives at Raccoon in Pike County, faces up to five years in prison.
Wyatt had been on home detention since he was indicted with Conn last September, but the prosecutor, Dustin M. Davis, asked U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves to have Wyatt jailed pending sentencing in June.
Wyatt’s attorney, Thomas C. Lyons, argued against that, saying Wyatt has complied with all the provisions of the detention order.
Wyatt is not a danger to the community and is not a risk to flee, in part because he has no money to run, Lyons told Reeves.
Reeves agreed Wyatt poses no danger to the community, but said there is a risk he could flee.
Wyatt has no apparent assets for an escape, but it was not apparent that Conn had the resources to flee, either, Reeves said.
There is an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator in the case who allegedly helped in Conn’s escape, the judge pointed out.
Reeves said Lyons could renew the issue of releasing Wyatt on home detention later.
An officer searched Wyatt in the courtroom after the hearing and took him out in handcuffs.
Plea deals such as those Wyatt signed often include a provision to help the government prosecute anyone else charged in the case.
Conn, who lived in Pikeville, was once one of the top Social Security disability lawyers in the country before admitting in March 2017 that he had used fake medical evidence in clients’ cases and had bribed a Social Security judge who approved claims for thousands of people in Eastern Kentucky.
Conn was on home detention awaiting sentencing when he fled the country in June 2017 after spending the day in Lexington for a court-approved meeting with prosecutors.
Conn cut the electronic monitor from his ankle, put it in a lined bag designed to conceal the electronic signal, and threw it out by Interstate 75.
Wyatt had taken delivery of the bag and tested it for Conn.
Conn crossed the border into Mexico a few days after leaving Lexington and eventually made his way to Honduras, where authorities caught him in December after six months on the run.
Reeves sentenced Conn to 12 years in prison during the time he was gone.
Conn, 58, started serving that sentence when the FBI brought him back to the country.
However, he faces charges related to his escape. He also faces 18 unresolved felony charges from the original indictment against him, including conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, scheming to retaliate against a Social Security Administration whistleblower and money laundering.
His attorney, Willis Coffey, has asked Reeves to dismiss the 18 charges, arguing that Conn’s guilty plea bars the government from prosecuting that indictment.
Conn could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted on those charges.