Eric Conn is escorted by SWAT team agents before his extradition at the Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Tuesday. Conn, a fugitive Kentucky lawyer who escaped before facing a sentence for his role in a massive case of Social Security fraud, was caught as he was leaving a restaurant in the coastal city of La Ceiba. (AP Photo / Moisés Castillo)
LOUISVILLE – Eric Conn, a disability attorney who fled the country after pleading guilty to orchestrating a scheme to defraud the federal government of $ 550 million, was arrested in Honduras and is in the custody of the FBI on his way back to Kentucky.
Conn has been missing since June when he took off a GPS monitoring bracelet after pleading guilty to defrauding the Social Security Administration through bribes he paid to pay for his clients' disability claims. I was working with a doctor and a judge to push cases; He faced 12 years in prison and was ordered to pay more than $ 83 million in fines and penalties, but now he could face more charges and time in prison.
The Honduran newspaper El Heraldo reported that a SWAT team arrested Conn in the coastal city of La Ceiba when he was leaving a Pizza Hut restaurant. The authorities say they had been following Conn for weeks. FBI officials said Tuesday that Conn was arrested Saturday and is scheduled to arrive in Lexington, Kentucky, on Tuesday afternoon. Conn's attorney, Scott White, confirmed that Conn was in custody.
"It seems from reports that Eric was detained by a uniformed group in Honduras," White said in a statement. "But, given the security situation in Honduras and the dangerous gangs that operate there, as recently reported in recent weeks regarding their election, who knows who these masked people are, who they work for, or if Eric has even been legally confiscated, these may or may not be problems for our courts or Honduran courts. "
Jennifer Griffith, a whistleblower whose efforts helped Conn condemn, celebrated the Twitter, saying that Conn's photo surrounded by masked members of a Honduran SWAT team It would be your Christmas card this year.
Griffith said on Tuesday that she and her colleague Sarah Carver "are relieved that Mr. Conn has been arrested and they hope that he not only turns 12 to those who have already been sentenced, but many more years. This man was granted too indulgent guilt treatment that took the blame from others and has done everything in his power to avoid prosecution. "
Griffith and Carver worked at the Huntington branch, W. Va. Office of Adjudication and Review of the Administration, and began to express concerns in 2005 about an administrative law judge and his relationship with Conn. That was about when SSA started using a paperless electronic filing system, which gave Griffith and Carver more data as evidence that something was wrong with the judge, David Daugherty, who had been approving claims for disability claims. Conn customers at an accelerated pace.
Whistleblowers' concerns gained wide attention in 2011, when the Wall Street Journal published a story about Daugherty who led the Senate's subcommittee on national security and government affairs to hold hearings in October 2013.
this October 2013 archive photo, Eric Conn makes a gesture invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination during a hearing of the Senate Committee on National Security and Government Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington. The FBI says that Conn, a disability attorney from Eastern Kentucky who was a fugitive from justice, has been captured in Honduras. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci, File)
Conn was indicted in April 2016, accused of orchestrating a scheme to defraud the US government. UU Of more than $ 550 million. Conn pleaded guilty a year later, recognizing his plan to defraud the government by bribing judges to approve false disability claims for thousands of plaintiffs. Daugherty was sentenced in August to four years in federal prison for accepting $ 600,000 in bribes from Conn.
Released on bail and awaiting his formal sentencing, Conn cut his ankle bracelet in June and stuffed it into a metal-lined bag to suppress the electronic signals, and disappeared. While fleeing, a person claiming to be Conn sent messages to members of the media and lawyers in Kentucky, apparently trying to dictate the terms of his surrender.
One of Conn's former employees, Curtis Lee Wyatt of Raccoon, Ky., Was charged in October with accusing him of buying a van for money to help Conn escape, opening a bank account for Conn and traveling to the border between Mexico and the United States in April to verify the security situation at the crossings in Nogales, Arizona. , and Columbus, NM Wyatt pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Conn took an unusual approach, using extravagant television commercials that gained notoriety throughout eastern Kentucky: one included the performance of Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley singing "Man of Constant Sorrows." "With new lyrics about Conn, referring to him as a" superhero without a cape "who" learned Spanish from a tape. "In another, Conn used rap to reach the Hispanic market, claiming:" Even me If you're Latino , you do not have to worry because this gringo speaks the jargon. "
But he was so well known for his results: he was able to guarantee that his clients would get their approved disability requests, taking advantage of the residents of a depressed region, which includes nine of the 30 the poorest counties of the nation, while the coal industry continued with labor hemorrhages.
In an interview with Eastern Kentucky Broadcasting, Ned Pillersdorf, a lawyer for many of Conn's former clients, said in a statement that he was worried about them. , many of whom were victims as a result of the scam.
"More than 800 lost their benefits," said Pillersdorf. "He has done such great damage and has been magnified. or his extravagant pranks. " . . . He has just done so much damage to so many and on so many levels, and hopefully this is the beginning of the end of this horrible test. "