The cost of helping Eric Conn in a massive disability fraud? 25 years in prison.

Becoming ‘Mr. Social Security’: The bizarre story of fugitive lawyer Eric Conn

Fugitive lawyer Eric C. Conn was convicted in a fraud scheme that could have cost the government more than $550 million in Social Security payments. Here's how the onetime king of Eastern Kentucky disability cases ended up on the FBI's most-wanted
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Fugitive lawyer Eric C. Conn was convicted in a fraud scheme that could have cost the government more than $550 million in Social Security payments. Here's how the onetime king of Eastern Kentucky disability cases ended up on the FBI's most-wanted

A Pikeville psychologist convicted of taking part in the largest Social Security disability fraud in U.S. history should serve 25 years in prison, a judge ruled Friday.

Alfred Bradley Adkins also was ordered to pay $93 million in restitution to the Social Security Administration and other agencies and to forfeit $187,600 in tainted fees.

“He was a key player in a scheme that resulted in a huge loss to state and federal agencies,” said U.S. Disrtrict Judge Danny C. Reeves.

Adkins, 46, was charged with Eric C. Conn, who represented thousands of Eastern Kentucky residents in successful claims for federal disability benefits.

After years as one of the most prolific disability lawyers in the nation, Conn pleaded guilty in March to stealing from the government and to bribing a Social Security judge.

Conn admitted leading a massive, years-long conspiracy in which he put false evidence of clients’ physical or mental disabilities in their claims, paid doctors to sign forms with little scrutiny, and gave cash to the judge to approve claims.

Conn was on home detention awaiting sentencing when he absconded in June and disappeared. The FBI continues to search for him and has offered a $20,000 reward to help catch him.

Former administrative law judge David B. Daugherty admitted taking more than $600,000 in illegal payments and awarding benefits to more than 3,100 people represented by Conn.

Adkins was charged with signing forms that included false information about Conn’s clients. Conn paid him $350 apiece for assessments.

Adkins denied doing anything wrong, but a jury convicted him in June on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and making false statements in forms submitted in disability claims.

Adkins started performing evaluations on Conn’s clients in 2004, according to a court document. Evidence showed that in the early years, Adkins sometimes changed his assessments — at Conn’s request — to make Conn’s clients appear more impaired than they were, federal prosecutor Dustin Davis said in a court document.

From 2007 to mid-2011, Conn or employees filled out forms attesting to people’s mental impairments and Adkins signed nearly 250 of them without changing or even reviewing them, according to Davis’ motion.

Adkins signed some of the forms on the hood of a car in the parking lot while Conn’s employees waited, Davis said in court Friday.

“The defendant compromised his medical judgment for money,” Davis said.

Adkins faced a sentence of up to 65 years under advisory guidelines.

Conn and Daugherty received far shorter sentences because of plea deals they worked out with prosecutors.

Reeves sentenced Conn to 12 years and Daugherty to four. Conn was sentenced in absentia.

Those were the maximum sentences Reeves could impose under the agreements Conn and Daugherty worked out with the government.

The potential sentence for Adkins was far greater because he went to trial instead of working out a plea deal. Defendants in federal cases get credit under sentencing guidelines for pleading guilty.

Family and friends of Adkins submitted letters to Reeves describing Adkins as a devoted husband, son and father, a committed Christian and a compassionate psychologist who helped people with mental and emotional problems.

Adkins’s attorney, Murdoch Walker II, said Conn drew Adkins into the scheme and that Adkins was naïve.

Adkins also spoke, his voice shaking with emotion and family members weeping as he asked Reeves for leniency.

“I don’t want to miss my grandchildren,” Adkins said.

Adkins said God and life had changed him in the years that have passed since he was involved with Conn, but Reeves interrupted him, saying Adkins’ improper conduct continued until much more recently when he testified falsely at his trial in June.

Adkins denied some signatures on mental assessments were his, but evidence showed the signature matched that on other documents Adkins signed, the prosecutor said.

“You flat-out lied to the jury,” Reeves said.

Prosecutors recommended a sentence of 15 years for Adkins, in part because of the much shorter sentences for Conn and Daugherty. However, Reeves said 15 years was too big a departure from the advisory maximum sentence.

The Social Security Administration would have paid a total of $596 million in lifetime benefits to people who weren’t really disabled under the scheme Conn headed, according to a court document.

Social Security did not actually pay out that much. The agency cut off payments to hundreds of Conn’s former clients after the fraud came to light, but did pay tens of millions of dollars before that happened.

Revees ordered Conn to repay $106 million to Social Security and other agencies. The judge also ordered him to pay $5.7 million to the government based on his fraudulent fees and a $50,000 fine.

Adkins will have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence under federal rules. He could appeal his conviction.

The government kept the remaining charges in the indictment against Conn in place after he fled. He will be prosecuted on those if he is caught and could face life in prison.