Becoming ‘Mr. Social Security’: The bizarre story of fugitive lawyer Eric Conn
A massive statue of Abraham Lincoln that belonged to Eric C. Conn, the Kentucky disability attorney sentenced to a total of 27 years in prison for social security fraud, was sold this week along with Conn’s office spaces in Floyd County.
Floyd County businessman Jerry Flannery purchased a total of about 11 acres along U.S. Route 23, which includes five mobile homes where Conn operated his business.
Flannery declined to say how much he paid for the property, but said he agreed to donate the Lincoln statue to the Floyd County Fiscal Court, which will transfer it to the Middle Creek National Battlefield, a civil war battlefield near Prestonsburg.
Conn was sentenced last year after defrauding the Social Security Administration of millions of dollars in a scheme that involved bribing a Social Security judge.
The fallout has jeopardized the benefits of hundreds of his former clients and, according to an attorney representing former Conn clients, led three people to kill themselves over concerns of losing their disability payments.
When Conn pleaded guilty in 2017 to one count of theft of government funds and one count of paying illegal gratuities, he agreed to pay the government a total of about $5.75 million. As part of that agreement, the money from the sale of his Floyd County property would be used to pay that debt. He also agreed to use $150,000 from the sale of his home to help pay back the debt.
Federal authorities placed a value of $659,100 on the office property after Conn pleaded guilty.
Flannery said he planned to use the property for commercial development, but has not decided what exactly that will entail.
According to filings with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office, Flannery has incorporated a number of business in Floyd County, including an equipment leasing company and a development firm.
Floyd County Judge-Executive Robert Williams said he had tried to work a deal with the realtor and the U.S. Marshals Service, which seized the property, to donate the land and offices to the Floyd County Fiscal Court for economic development purposes.
“They should have considered our offer,” Williams said. “We could have used it to create some jobs for these folks.”
Williams said he hopes the statue will bring more tourism to the Middle Creek Battlefield, and said the sale is an important step for Floyd County to move on from the harm Conn caused.
“There were lives that were destroyed because of what Eric Conn did there,” Williams said. “The statue to me symbolizes hope, and us as Floyd Countians dealing with our tough times and pulling through, and reinventing ourselves in a positive way.”
Frank Fitzpatrick, who oversees the battlefield, said the Battle of Middle Creek was an important win for Lincoln, who suffered a number of defeats early in the war and was losing support from Congress.
Fitzpatrick said he thinks the statue will be an important addition to the battlefield and the area “if for no other reason than Lincoln is from Kentucky.”
“I think for all those reasons it’s just quite appropriate to have Lincoln, and especially a statue of that stature, at the battlefield,” Fitzpatrick said. “It looks like it’s going to play out and be a really positive event for the battlefield and for the area.”