|Eric Conn, shown at a Honduras Pizza Hut|
immediately before his arrest. (FBI photo)
Eric Conn "once had one of the biggest practices in the country specializing in representing people seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He pleaded guilty in March to bribes of a Social Security judge totaling more than $600,000, and defrauding the government of more than $550 million in benefits by putting false evidence of clients' disabilities in their claims and paying doctors to sign off on disability forms without actually examining the patients. About 700 of his clients have kept their disability benefits, but 800 lost them.
Conn was on house arrest while awaiting his July sentencing, but after a June 2 meeting with his attorney and prosecutors, he cut off his ankle monitor and fled. An accomplice, Curtis Lee Wyatt, allegedly helped him escape by opening a bank account used to send money out of the country to Conn. He also bought Conn a truck and drove to Mexico to scope out the security.
While on the lam, Conn sent emails and faxes to the Herald-Leader and others. "Some of those messages poked the government for not being able to catch him. He said in one message to a prosecutor on his case, Dustin Davis, that when he fled he 'knew the game was afoot' and that he had learned the FBI’s playbook before he left," Estep reports. "The message from mid-June also said the FBI 'could not be more wrong' about his whereabouts."
What comes next for Conn? Because he fled the country, he forfeited the terms of his plea deal, which would have dropped more than a dozen charges from the original rap sheet. So now he faces a possible life sentence if convicted. And he was tried and sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison on charges of conspiracy and escape.