Crime

FBI: Eric Conn fled to New Mexico using an accomplice’s truck

The FBI released this photo on Friday of fugitive lawyer Eric C. Conn at a gas station in New Mexico.
The FBI released this photo on Friday of fugitive lawyer Eric C. Conn at a gas station in New Mexico. FBI

Fugitive Eastern Kentucky lawyer Eric Conn used a truck owned by an accomplice to escape sentencing in his federal fraud case, showing up with a shaved head a few days later at a Walmart and a convenience store in New Mexico, the FBI said Friday.

The FBI released photos Friday of Conn taken at the two locations in order to show his current appearance.

The truck Conn used was registered to a dummy company in Montana, the FBI said in a news release. The release said the accomplice provided Conn with other materials to help him escape. It did not provide details.

Agents traced the truck to where it was abandoned in New Mexico, near the border with Mexico.

The FBI referred to the truck as being “abandoned for us to find,” an apparent reference that Conn meant to have authorities find the vehicle, possibly in an effort to throw them off his trail.

The news release said there is no indication that Conn crossed into Mexico.

The FBI said Conn made several stops, including at a Walmart and convenience store where his image was captured on surveillance systems.

The photos show Conn, wearing a dark T-shirt and dark pants, buying water and a snack at the convenience store and pushing a bicycle through the Walmart — a considerably less glamorous vehicle for a man who once owned a Rolls-Royce.

The photo of the man with the bike was somewhat blurry, but Conn’s attorney said he had no doubt the man in the convenience store photo was Conn, recognizable even with a shaved head.

“I saw that and said ‘He is fooling nobody,’” said Lexington attorney Scott White.

Conn Walmart
The FBI released this photo on Friday of fugitive lawyer Eric C. Conn at a Walmart in New Mexico. FBI

A person claiming to be Conn told the Herald-Leader in late June that he flew out of the country using a fake passport provided by an accomplice who was beyond the reach of the FBI.

Conn said he was in a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States to send back people wanted for crimes. Conn said he flew out of the U.S. on June 3, the day after he absconded.

There was no way for the newspaper to independently verify the claims, though it did take steps to confirm that Conn was sending the emails.

The information released Friday by the FBI indicates at least part of the account provided by Conn was false.

The surveillance photos were taken at a Pilot convenience store in Santa Rosa, N.M., and a Walmart in Deming, N.M., in early June, but after June 3, the agency said, meaning Conn was still in the country that day.

The FBI did not provide information on where agents think Conn went after ditching the truck.

However, the agency said it continues to tighten the noose and vowed not to stop.

“Conn continues to become isolated from family, friends, and associates who are turning their backs on him or are rendered unable to help him. His resources are continually dwindling,” the FBI said in a news release.

“We are actively seizing bank accounts and disrupting other means of support while pursuing law enforcement action against co-conspirators in his flight. It is in the best interest of anyone helping him to cooperate with law enforcement and avoid criminal charges for providing aid to him,” the agency said.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves said at Conn’s sentencing Friday that Conn will have to look over his shoulder for as long as he is on the run. The judge suggested the FBI shouldn’t be Conn’s only worry, noting there are lots of bounty hunters who might come after him for cash. The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to Conn’s arrest.

Conn pleaded guilty in March to using fake evidence in clients’ claims for disability benefits and bribing a Social Security judge who approved claims for thousands of his clients. He gave up his law license.

Conn was on home detention awaiting sentencing when he cut the electronic monitor from his ankle the evening of June 2 and fled. He threw the monitor out along Interstate 75 in Lexington near the Newtown Pike exit. It was wrapped in metallic material inside a backpack, apparently to stifle the signal.

Conn had been in Lexington that day to meet with federal prosecutors and his attorney about his testimony against a co-defendant in the massive Social Security fraud case. He faced a 12-year sentence.

In addition to contacting the Herald-Leader, a person claiming to be Conn sent emails and faxes to several other media outlets and even some adversaries.

That person even sent a fax to Dustin Davis, one of the federal prosecutors on Conn’s case, on June 19.

“When I fled, I knew the game was afoot,” the fax said.

The message castigated the FBI and said the agency’s belief on his whereabouts “could not be more wrong.”

“In fairness to the FBI I had a year to plan for this,” the fax said. “I learned the FBI’s ‘playbook.’”

Conn has been in frequent contact by email with his attorney while on the run. White said he does not know where Conn is but has urged Conn to surrender.

If Conn had not fled, he likely could have gotten a sentence of eight or nine years based on his cooperation with federal authorities. Now, however, remaining charges under his original indictment and new charges related to the escape could mean a life sentence if he is caught.

“If I was Eric, I would not want to be caught,” White said. “He’s taking a helluva gamble.”

Attorney Eric Conn was accused of hiring doctors to submit false health assessments and colluding with a Kentucky judge who approved the disability claims. He refused to testify at a Senate hearing on fraudulent Social Security disability benefits

FBI Special Agent In Charge Amy Hess briefs the press on developments in the case against former attorney Eric Conn. Conn pled guilty to one of the largest disability-fraud cases in the nation's history.

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