Public fascination with the personal plight of attorney Eric Conn, aka “Mr. Social Security,” continues to dominate conversations here in the mountains.
In April, a federal grand jury found probable cause that Conn, 55, conspired to rig hundreds of disability claims from 2004 to 2012 with a Pikeville psychologist and a Social Security Administration appeals judge in West Virginia.
Questions like “Will he flee or be convicted?” are topics of intense curiosity in the media, and on the streets of Prestonsburg, Pikeville and Williamson, W.Va.
Completely overlooked is the plight of his 1,500 former clients.
The majority of them either have lost or will lose their Social Security benefits, unless we can remedy this in court challenges.
Why are they not talked about? They are less interesting. Unlike Conn, they are not frequent flyers to Thailand or the Galapagos Islands. They don’t erect statutes of Abraham Lincoln and plaster their faces on billboards.
Instead, since May 2015, those who haven’t committed suicide live in constant fear and dread of losing the $865 a month that they desperately need to pay rent, feed their families and put gas in their cars. Local businesses are quick to observe that every penny those recipients receive is recirculated in our already-fragile local economy.
My prediction is that if the Social Security Administration continues on its current oppressive mission of causing more than 800 local folks to lose benefits, this region will no longer be known as one of the most poverty-stricken in the nation. We will easily surpass every other area and be the most poverty-stricken region in the nation.
The most common and infuriating misconception is that somehow the former Conn clients were involved or implicated in the crimes alleged against Conn and others in the indictment.
To date, after a lengthy federal grand jury investigation, a U.S. Senate hearing and report, and most importantly almost 1,400 hearings before 10 administrative law judges, there continues to be zero evidence that any former Conn client had any wrongful involvement.
The truth is that Conn was a hermetic character who never interacted with clients, or even the majority of his erstwhile 50-member staff. I have yet to meet the first former client who met Conn and talked to him about their case.
Indeed this is not only true of my experience, but if you go through the volumes of investigative reports, there is not the slightest hint that any former Conn client had the foggiest idea of any criminal wrongdoing.
It is more entertaining to talk about Conn’s potential future prospects, but it is much more important to be concerned about those he used to represent.
Ned Pillersdorf is a lawyer in Prestonsburg.