Fugitive Eastern Kentucky lawyer Eric C. Conn likely had help absconding from home detention, which means there will probably be charges against relatives or associates suspected of helping him, the state’s top FBI agent said Friday.
Authorities will take action in the case Monday “with the expectation that charges against additional co-conspirators, including family members and associates of Eric Conn, will likely follow,” Amy Hess, special agent in charge of the FBI in Kentucky, said at a news conference in Louisville.
Hess also said that the longer Conn remains on the run, the greater the possibility he will face additional charges.
Conn’s attorney, Scott White, said Conn needs to surrender soon.
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“My goal has been to get Eric to surrender. It is 100 percent in his best interest to do that,” White said.
Conn, who lived in Pikeville and had an office in Floyd County, was once one of the top Social Security disability attorneys in the nation, winning federal benefits for thousands of people.
However, he pleaded guilty in March to stealing from the government by submitting false medical information in his clients’ cases and to bribing a Social Security Administration judge to approve payments to his clients. He was suspended from practicing law because of the conviction.
Conn was on home detention awaiting sentencing, scheduled for July, and was required to wear an electronic monitoring device on his ankle.
He spent much of June 2 in Lexington, preparing to testify against Pikeville psychologist Bradley Adkins, who was charged with signing false mental-impairment evaluations for Conn to use in cases.
That evening, Conn cut off his ankle bracelet and disappeared.
Adkins’ looming trial probably played a role in Conn’s decision to flee, Hess said.
Adkins was convicted without Conn’s testimony.
Hess said Friday that the FBI thinks Conn is in the country, based on the nature of information the agency is getting about him and the evidence authorities have seen.
Hess didn’t provide details, but she said the FBI is working with other agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to put out “stops and tripwires” to keep Conn from crossing a border.
Hess, for the first time, addressed the possibility that Conn had help.
“We believe that it would be unlikely for him to flee and remain in his escape status at this point without some type of additional help, so therefore we’re pursuing all angles as to who might be helping him currently,” Hess said.
A grand jury case has been opened, Hess said.
On Thursday, FBI agents and state police officers searched the complex of connected mobile homes at Stanville that Conn used as an office, and the adjacent home of his mother, Pat Conn, and her car.
The car might have been involved in Conn’s flight, Hess said, but others could have been involved as well.
Authorities took numerous items during the search, including electronic evidence, Hess said.
White said after Hess’s news conference that it is clear the FBI is intensifying efforts to catch Conn.
The reference to further action Monday could mean Conn is about to be charged with a separate crime for the escape, White said.
White said if Conn surrenders before being charged, it’s possible his decision to flee could be handled as a bond violation, which would be less serious than a criminal charge. If Conn is caught or surrenders after being charged, the consequences will be more serious, White said.
“In that case, the number of years he is facing in prison will dramatically increase,” White said.
Someone claiming to be Conn has sent several emails and faxes while trying to elude capture, beginning with an email to the Herald-Leader June 9 in which he said he fled because he was angry that two judges convicted in relation to his case will receive less jail time.
David B. Daugherty admitted to taking $609,000 in payoffs from Conn while rubber-stamping benefits for Conn clients from 2004 to 2011, and Charlie Paul Andrus, Daugherty’s boss, pleaded guilty to retaliating against a Social Security employee who blew the whistle on Daugherty and Conn.
Conn faced up to 12 years before absconding. The top sentence for Daugherty would be four years; for Andrus, 10 years.
On Friday, Hess said the emails to the Herald-Leader and other media outlets are either from Conn or someone purporting to be Conn who has inside information about the case and what happened at the time he escaped.
Hess said the FBI is trying to find the origin of the emails and social media posts and confirm who sent them.
“Technology changes daily. As a result, every day we see new techniques being used, and we develop new techniques to be able to identify where those emails might be coming from,” Hess said.
The first email from the person purporting to be Conn included terms for his surrender. Conn’s attorney received a message with identical terms.
Among other things, the sender wanted the FBI to publicly acknowledge that Conn has no history of violence; to publicly state that Conn fled because he found it unfair that Daugherty and Andrus will receive less prison time; and to promise not to file charges related to his escape.
Hess cautioned in an earlier news conference that the public should not approach Conn while he’s on the run. The sender wanted the agency to say that statement was not based on a specific concern about Conn.
Hess said Friday that the FBI has no plans to honor the demands before Conn gives up, and repeated that people should be careful in approaching him.
“When someone flees to escape sentencing, to escape being held accountable for their actions, we believe that they do present a potential danger to the community,” Hess said.
However, Hess said Conn has no history of violence and that police have no indication that he would commit an act of violence.
The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to Conn’s whereabouts and arrest.
In another development Friday, a judge in Floyd County approved a $31 million judgment against Conn in a class-action lawsuit by about 1,500 former clients who charged Conn defrauded them, said Ned Pillersdorf, who represented the plaintiffs.
Conn has now been ordered to pay a total of more than $100 million in restitution or damages to government agencies, whistleblowers, former clients and attorneys.