A request to dismiss charges against disbarred attorney Eric C. Conn that could carry a cumulative 255-year sentence should be denied, a federal magistrate judge has recommended.
Conn, 58, admitted taking part in a conspiracy in which he put false evidence of clients’ physical or mental disabilities in their claims, paid medical professionals to rubber-stamp claims with little scrutiny, and bribed a Social Security judge to approve them.
However, more charges are pending, and those are the subject of U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier’s ruling.
There were 18 charges in the April 2016 indictment of Conn in the largest Social Security fraud case in history.
To avoid trial, Conn pleaded guilty to two charges that were not in the original indictment.
The deal included a 12-year sentence and a requirement for Conn to help the government prosecute others.
Conn was allowed to remain on home incarceration at his $1.5 million house in Pikeville — with electronic monitoring — while waiting to be sentenced in July 2017.
The deal seemed to be working as Conn met several times with prosecutors preparing for the trial of Alfred Bradley Adkins, a Pikeville psychologist charged with Conn, Wier said in his decision.
“As has proven true through much of Conn’s life, he had his own hidden plans,” however, Wier said.
After meeting with prosecutors on June 2 of last year in Lexington, Conn cut the electronic monitoring device from his ankle and fled to Mexico.
That left prosecutors without a key witness when Adkins’ trial started June 5. Even though it didn't have Conn’s testimony, a jury convicted Adkins of conspiracy, mail fraud and signing forms for Conn that included false information.
Conn made his way to Honduras, where police caught him Dec. 2 at a Pizza Hut where he'd gone to eat.
Conn’s plea agreement included a provision for prosecutors to dismiss the original 18 charges against him when he was sentenced on those charges to which he pleaded guilty.
After he absconded, however, prosecutors said they would keep that indictment in place against Conn as U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves sentenced him to 12 years on the two charges.
Conn’s attorney, Willis G. Coffey, argued in a motion that the government was required to dismiss the 18 charges because Conn had pleaded guilty and received the maximum sentence.
The government got the benefit of the guilty plea and a $5.7 million financial judgment against Conn, the motion said.
"Conn did his part,” Coffey argued.
In a response, prosecutors Rebecca A. Caruso and Dustin M. Davis said the argument that Conn kept his end of the bargain was "nothing short of preposterous.”
Prosecutors argued Conn breached the deal by not testifying against Adkins and by not appearing for sentencing. Consequently, the government was allowed to prosecute him on the original 18 charges.
Wier agreed, saying Conn’s “inarguable breaches” of the plea deal freed the government from any duties it had, including dismissing the 18 charges.
To fulfill the deal, “Conn had to show up and take his agreed medicine,” Wier wrote.
“He did not appear as required, and in the first five months after sentencing, Conn remained a fugitive,” Wier said. “This denied the United States a critical aspect of the deal, cheated the people of time in custody, and cost untold amounts in terms of investigative time and expense.”
Wier recommended that Reeves deny Conn’s effort to get the charges dismissed.
Conn was once among the most prolific disability attorneys in the nation, representing thousands of people in successful claims for benefits before his practice fell apart under the fraud case.
He has begun serving his 12-year sentence and is to be tried later on the 18 charges.
Reeves sentenced Adkins to 25 years in prison.
The others charged in the case were David B. Daugherty, the former Social Security judge who admitted taking $609,000 in bribes from Conn, and Charlie Paul Andrus, once a supervisory Social Security judge, who pleaded guilty to taking part in retaliating against an employee who blew the whistle on the scheme involving Conn and Daugherty.
Reeves sentenced Daugherty to four years in prison under his plea deal. Andrus received a six-month sentence and a $20,000 fine.
Curtis Lee Wyatt, a Pike County man who worked for Conn has pleaded guilty to helping him escape.