Becoming ‘Mr. Social Security’: The bizarre story of fugitive lawyer Eric Conn
Disgraced lawyer Eric Conn has been caught six months after fleeing Kentucky to avoid prison in the largest Social Security disability fraud in the nation’s history, according to a story posted on a news site in Honduras.
The story in El Heraldo said Conn was arrested by the country’s Technical Agency for Criminal Investigation, or ATIC.
The story didn’t say when Conn was arrested, but it included photos of Conn with masked ATIC agents standing over him.
The story said police with a SWAT unit arrested Conn as he was leaving a restaurant in La Ceiba, a city of about 200,000 on the northern coast of the Central American nation.
The story said Conn is to be flown back to the U.S. Tuesday.
A spokesman for the FBI in Kentucky said he couldn’t comment on the article.
Lexington attorney Scott White, who represented Conn before he fled, said he hadn’t been given any official information about Conn being captured, but he had heard rumors about it since the weekend.
It does appear that Conn was taken into custody, White said. But given the shaky security situation and the presence of gangs in Honduras, “who knows” if Conn was legally seized, he said.
But if Conn was lawfully arrested and is legally returned to the U.S., that would come as no surprise, White said: “The FBI usually gets their man.”
The arrest ends an escape saga that had gotten nationwide attention.
Conn once had one of the nation’s largest practices representing people seeking federal disability benefits, but he pleaded guilty in March to stealing from the government and to bribing a Social Security judge.
Officials said the fraud was the biggest in the history of the Social Security program, obligating the government to pay more than $550 million in benefits if the investigation hadn’t intervened.
Conn admitted putting false evidence of clients’ disabilities in their claims, paying doctors to sign forms with little scrutiny, and giving more than $600,000 cash to the judge, David B. Daugherty.
Daugherty pleaded guilty in the case, and a psychologist from Pikeville, Bradley Adkins, was convicted of signing forms that included false information.
Another former Social Security judge, Charlie Paul Andrus, pleaded guilty to being part of the scheme to discredit an agency employee who tried to expose the wrongdoing.
Conn was scheduled to be sentenced in July. He was on home detention while awaiting sentencing, but he fled June 2.
The FBI later released images showing that he was in New Mexico a few days after he fled.
A federal grand jury charged that a former employee of Conn’s, Curtis Lee Wyatt, helped Conn escape.
Wyatt allegedly opened a bank account to use in sending money out of the country for Conn, bought a truck for Conn to use in fleeing, and crossed the border into Mexico to see what kind of security was in place.
Conn is charged in that case with conspiracy and escape.
Wyatt has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial in February.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves sentenced Conn in absentia to 12 years in prison. Conn could face a life sentence on more than a dozen charges that prosecutors left in place from his original case after he fled.