Eric C. Conn clients win reprieve in record-breaking Social Security scam
Social Security beneficiaries snared in the largest disability scam in U.S. history won a reprieve last week when the government said it will put off decisions on revoking their benefits until the new year.
The reversal by the Social Security Administration comes after the federal government finally took possession of and named receivers for thousands of case files from Eric C. Conn, the lawyer who orchestrated the disability-fraud ring. The files, which had been sitting in Conn’s law office for years, contain evidence that might help the beneficiaries prove they were entitled to benefits the government is now trying to strip from them.
It’s the latest chapter in the chaos sown by Conn, who helped thousands of people in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia win Social Security benefits, submitting what in many cases were fraudulent medical exams to win their cases.
But not everyone Conn helped was a bogus applicant and now those people will have a fighting chance to prove they were, in fact, disabled when they first applied for benefits a decade ago, said Ned Pillersdorf, a lawyer who has taken on a number of Conn clients’ cases.
“It’s better late than never they did this,” Mr. Pillersdorf told The Washington Times.
He’s pushing the court-appointed receivers, who have taken possession of the Conn client files, to process them quickly and release them so the clients will have then ready before the Social Security hearings begin again in January.
The receivers, Kentucky lawyers Cary B. Howard and Barry Stilz, wouldn’t commit to a schedule.
Mr. Howard said in an email to The Times only that they have “begun the significant task of organizing the material and are working hard already on behalf of the Court to get clients access to their property as soon as possible.”
The files, which the Justice Department said total up to 7,000, have been controversial for months, since The Times reported that they were sitting in Conn’s abandoned law office, which had apparently been taken over by squatters after Conn was in jail.
The government had suggested in court papers in 2016 and 2017 that the files had been destroyed, leaving Conn’s former clients in the lurch. But whistleblowers Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith found the files intact in the law office earlier this year, in the latest embarrassment to the government.
Mr. Pillersdorf said government agents had been in and out of the office even before that making officials’ surprise at learning about the files this year all the more curious.
“They knew those files were in there, and they knew hearings were going on 15 miles away in Prestonburg,” he said, referring to Social Security Administration’s office location.
For months, he’s been asking for the files to be given back to the clients and for Social Security to halt its case reviews until the clients could get them.
“The hearings are strictly focused on whether they were disabled about 10 years ago. Needless to say what is on those files which were generated in anticipation of the claims 10 years ago would be very relevant,” Mr. Pillersdorf said. “When I ask my clients today who they were treating with 10 years ago, I don’t get very helpful answers.”
Social Security finally agreed last week to delay the reviews.
An agency spokesman said they waited until the receivers were officially appointed before agreeing to the delays.
Dozens of beneficiaries have already gone through review, though, and some had already lost their cases. The agency spokesman said those cases are still in Social Security’s jurisdiction and clients can still submit new evidence gleaned from their files.
Under Conn’s complex scam, he would solicit people to apply for disability, pay doctors and a psychologist for bogus medical evaluations, then submit the cases to Social Security judges whom he was either bribing or plying with gifts.
Conn is now serving time for the original scam and for a subsequent escape from custody he cut off his ankle bracelet in June 2017 and fled south to Central America, where he was arrested at a Pizza Hut in Guatemala in December.