Disgraced Pikeville attorney Eric Conn spent most of Friday in Lexington working on testimony against another figure in the $550 million Social Security fraud case that left him facing 12 years in prison.
Sometime between Friday afternoon and 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening, when the FBI notified the media, Conn cut off his electronic monitoring device and disappeared. He has not been heard from since, and federal authorities have not released further details of his dramatic flight.
“He was in Lexington on Friday preparing, and when we left him, all seemed OK,” said Lexington attorney Scott White. He declined to comment on any other details on Conn’s actions, which came a month before he was due to be sentenced in federal court.
The U.S. Probation Office, which was overseeing Conn on home detention, declined to comment on his disappearance, and the federal district clerk’s office said the arrest warrant issued for him Saturday was not public.
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Conn lived in Pikeville but had an office in Floyd County, where he operated a huge practice across Eastern Kentucky, helping people secure federal disability payments.
In March, Conn pleaded guilty to stealing from the Social Security Administration by paying bribes to a judge to rubber-stamp disability claims for thousands of his clients. Conn remained free on bond, but a judge had ordered him to be on home detention with electronic monitoring.
In April, a judge ordered him to pay more than $80 million in restitution to government agencies and whistleblowers.
Conn apparently had permission to travel to Lexington to prepare for possible testimony against another figure in the case, Pikeville psychologist Bradley Adkins.
Adkins has denied allegations that he signed mental-impairment forms for Conn’s clients without examining them. His case began Monday in Lexington.
David B. Daugherty, a judge who heard Social Security disability appeals, pleaded guilty, admitting that he took more than $600,000 in payments from Conn to sign off on Conn’s clients.
Conn had assured U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier he could be trusted to be released. Initially prosecutors opposed releasing Conn before trial. Others called Conn a flight risk.
Employees in Conn’s office had heard him say he would flee to Cuba or Ecuador to avoid criminal charges, and Conn had wired substantial sums of money out of the country at times, an FBI agent testified at one hearing.
“If he were to leave, to cross a border, he could go to wherever he has stashed some money and flee,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Trey Alford said at the time.
But Wier said the government’s evidence was based on hearsay. An FBI agent who testified noted all of Conn’s statements were made in 2013, three years before his arrest.
“The factors are significantly pro-release,” Wier wrote in court documents. “Conn shows mental and physical stability, has a long period of stable employment, and has lifelong ties in Pike County, to include his aging mother and young daughter and his livelihood.”
After Conn pleaded guilty and before his escape, prosecutors changed position, recommending he be allowed to remain free on bond pending sentencing. A judge agreed.
The Conn case has caused a good deal of heartache in Eastern Kentucky. At least two people committed suicide after the Social Security Administration said it would cut off benefits to Conn clients because of suspected fraudulent information used in their cases, and hundreds reportedly have lost benefits.
Eastern Kentucky resident Donna Dye told the Associated Press that she has had to practice numerous cost-saving measures since her husband, a former coal miner, lost his disability benefits. She had sold several pieces of her home’s furniture and rigged a system of hoses to collect water from a mountain spring to save on utilities.
When the news came across the radio, she laughed.
“Everybody knew he would run. If it would have been anybody else, he wouldn’t have been home arrest,” she said. “I hope that the FBI actually goes to the end of the Earth to find this man and bring him back to justice.”
Anyone with information about Conn has been asked to contact the FBI at 502-263-6000.