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Update: Person claiming to be fugitive Eric Conn offers terms of surrender in emails

Eric Conn
Eric Conn

A person claiming to be fugitive lawyer Eric C. Conn laid out the terms of his surrender in emails sent to his attorney and the Herald-Leader in recent days, then contacted the newspaper early Sunday to provide extra details aimed at confirming his identity.

Conn, who pleaded guilty in March in one of the largest disability-fraud cases in the nation’s history, absconded from home detention on June 2.

In an email sent to the newspaper Friday, the person claiming to be Conn said he fled because he felt it was unfair that two Social Security judges convicted in relation to his case would get far less prison time than him.

Conn’s attorney, Scott White, confirmed that he received an email Thursday from someone claiming to be his client and that the email contained some of the same details that were in the message sent to the newspaper.

White said he first thought the email was a joke, but became convinced there was a high likelihood that the emails to him and the newspaper were from Conn.

The emails set out conditions under which the sender would surrender to the FBI.

They were that the terms of his surrender be made available for public review and discussion; that the FBI publicly state Conn fled because he found it unfair that others in the case will receive a combined sentence less than his; that the FBI publicly acknowledge Conn has no history of violence and that a caution they issued to members of the public about approaching him was not based on a specific concern; and finally, that the FBI not charge him with additional crimes related to him fleeing.

White confirmed the surrender terms were identical to those in the message he received.

I can assure him it will go much, much better the sooner he turns himself in.

Scott White, attorney for fugitive Eric C. Conn

He said the message had other information he could not disclose, though he noted the wording was consistent with how Conn speaks and writes.

The sender wanted him to provide the instructions to the FBI.

After researching the ethical boundaries on what he could tell the FBI given his attorney-client relationship with Conn, White provided some information to the agency.

The agency welcomed the information and is processing it, White said. He said he assumed the FBI believes the email came from Conn.

The Herald-Leader tried to respond to the email it received Friday but got a response that the address could not be found. The newspaper also shared the email with the FBI.

Asked if the agency is treating the email as a lead, spokesman David Habich said the FBI is investigating many leads in trying to locate Conn, and that the agency encourages anyone with information to call (502) 263-6000.

ConnWantedPoster
A wanted poster for Eric Conn from the FBI. Photo submitted

White said that after talking with an FBI agent, he believes Conn will be treated with courtesy and respect if he turns himself in.

Conn will have to deal with the repercussions of cutting off his ankle monitor, he said.

However, White said it is possible that could be treated as a bond violation at this point, without an additional criminal charge, though he said he could not promise Conn that.

“I can assure him (Conn) it will go much, much better the sooner he turns himself in,” White said.

It will complicate matters if police catch Conn or if he commits another crime, White said.

White said he did not get any indication of Conn’s whereabouts, but can help facilitate a surrender if Conn contacts him.

“I only hope and pray it is somewhere in the United States and he can quickly turn himself in,” White said.

Though the Herald-Leader could not independently verify that Conn sent the email the newspaper received Friday, the message included a piece of information that the FBI had not publicly released at the time — that the electronic monitoring device Conn had been wearing was found in a backpack.

The message said the device was wrapped in material to try to block radio signals.

After the newspaper posted a story about the emails online late Saturday, the person sent a follow-up at 3:33 a.m. Sunday saying he had seen the story. He provided more detail about the backpack and the shielding material around the ankle bracelet.

The FBI confirmed Friday that the ankle monitor was in a backpack, but did not release a detail on it being wrapped in anything.

The person claiming to be Conn said he had been willing to accept his fate — a potential 12-year prison sentence — until learning that the combined sentences for David Daugherty and Charlie Paul Andrus would be less than for Conn.

Daugherty was a judge who heard appeals from people seeking Social Security disability payments. Andrus was his boss in the Huntington office of the agency, where appeals from Eastern Kentucky went.

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

Conn pleaded guilty to submitting false medical information in requests for his clients to receive disability checks, and to bribing Daugherty to approve payments for thousands of people.

The fraud scheme involved potential payments of $550 million in Social Security benefits to Conn’s clients, netting him millions in fees.

Daugherty pleaded guilty to accepting more than $600,000 in bribes from Conn and faces up to four years in prison. Andrus pleaded guilty to retaliating against a Social Security employee who tried to alert superiors to red flags involving Daugherty and Conn. The charge carries a top sentence of 10 years, but Andrus likely faces less time under advisory guidelines.

“Tell me how it is reasonable that the federal government takes such good care of its own corrupt federal judges and aggressively goes after me demanding a protracted sentence,” the person purporting to be Conn said in the email to the Herald-Leader. “I fail to see any justice in this. On the contrary, I see patent injustice.”

The email also said that in large part, “I blame the Daugherty sentence for these recent developments.”

Daugherty acknowledged in his plea that he approached Conn for bribes beginning in 2004.

The person claiming to be Conn said the public needs to know that despite their misdeeds, Daugherty and Andrus “continue to receive their sizable federal pensions.”

Daugherty has been at his beachfront condominium in South Carolina “living large during all of these proceedings,” said the email, which had an aggrieved tone at points.

The email quoted the Roman philosopher Seneca as saying “nothing is more common than for great thieves to ride in triumph while small ones are punished.”

“The American system of justice ensures that the country’s political class receives preferential treatment,” while the “politically powerless are treated with extreme disdain,” the email said.

Conn spent the day in Lexington June 2 preparing to be a witness in the trial of Pikeville psychologist Bradley Adkins, who is charged with signing bogus mental-impairment evaluations for Conn to use in cases.

Conn had been under home detention and was wearing a monitoring device on his ankle. That evening, authorities said Conn cut off the ankle bracelet and fled.

Authorities found the bracelet in a backpack along Interstate 75 near the Newtown Pike exit.

An FBI spokesman said Friday that the agency believes Conn is still in the country, though it has not released details on why. The FBI announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to Conn’s whereabouts and arrest.

The person who emailed the paper early Sunday said he had watched the FBI press conference about the reward on East Kentucky Broadcasting, which posted video of the event on its website.

He complimented Amy Hess, special agent in charge of the FBI in Kentucky, on her “highly persuasive manner” in explaining the need to apprehend Conn.

Hess did not describe Conn as armed and dangerous, but did caution members of the public about approaching him while he is a fugitive, saying he had engaged in an act of desperation by absconding.

The email sender said he understood that caution, but said he would never harm anyone.

“It’s simply not who I am,” he said.

The person claiming to be Conn said that while he was on house arrest for 15 months, the woman he loved left him, saying she could not be with someone who could not leave the house.

“She made it abundantly clear that she wanted to have a ‘normal life,’” the man wrote. “I understood her feelings.”

On the bright side, he said, he had time to learn an additional language while stuck at home. Conn has traveled widely, including to Thailand, the Caribbean and South America.

In another email shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday, the person said the scheme to defraud Social Security “required many co-conspirators for it to work.”

The message said federal officials have knowledge of wrongdoing by others who have not been charged in the case, including another judge, several Social Security officials and other medical professionals.

“This is the first time in my adult life that I can say whatever I feel like saying. There is literally nothing left to take away from me,” the message said. “It has been said that ‘only a man who has nothing to lose will tell the truth.’ I am he.”

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