LOUISVILLE - Eric Conn, the fugitive attorney who pleaded guilty to orchestrating a scheme to defraud the federal government of $600 million, remains at large since he cut off his court-ordered GPS monitoring bracelet on June 2 and ditched it by a highway, and the FBI on Friday said he is likely still in the United States.
Conn in March entered guilty pleas to defrauding the Social Security Administration via bribes he paid to a doctor and a judge to process and approve his clients' disability claims. He was facing up to 12 years in prison and was ordered to pay $83.2 million in fines and penalties, but the FBI says that he could be facing new charges since the government is reconsidering the terms of his plea deal following his decision to flee.
Conn was released on a $1.25 million bond, which he had secured with his home in Pikeville, Kentucky. The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for his capture.
"We consider cases like this to be an act of desperation," FBI Special Agent in Charge Amy Hess said during a news conference here Friday. "So we urge the public to use all caution." Authorities noted that Conn does not have a history of violence.
State and federal agencies this week executed a search warrant on Conn's mother's house, her vehicle, and Conn's former law practice, which is a compound of five connected mobile homes fronted by reproductions of the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial in Stanville.
From 2006 to 2016, Conn processed 1,700 client applications for Social Security benefits with a potential of $550 million in lifetime benefits. Since the revelation of the allegations, the Social Security Administration has contacted many of Conn's former clients with claims they owe as much as $100,000 for disability payments going back 10 years unless they can prove they have been disabled the entire time, according to Shannon Fauver, an attorney who now represents 18 of Conn's former clients.
"To go back and prove that you are disabled 10 years later, after Conn destroyed all the medical records, is almost impossible," Fauver said, citing media reports of a three-day bonfire at Conn's office when documents were allegedly destroyed.
Some of Fauver's clients have kept their disability, some have lost it, and others are still having their cases adjudicated in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Seven of Conn's former clients have killed themselves, Fauver said.
"There have been no allegations that his clients did anything wrong, and they are the ones that are suffering for what he did," Fauver said, noting that Conn was "taking advantage of all these people."
Conn's fraud scheme was fueled by television advertisements that included a 3-D television ad from 2010 and one from 2009 in which Conn hired YouTube star "Obama Girl" and Bluegrass music legend Ralph Stanley to sing a version of "Man of Constant Sorrows" with new lyrics that refer to Conn as a "superhero without a cape" and to brag that Conn had "learned Spanish off of a tape."
In a rap video, Conn billed himself as Hispanic-friendly: "Even if you're Latino, no need to worry cuz this gringo speaks the lingo."
A person representing himself as Conn has emailed at least one reporter following his story, laying out the terms of his potential surrender to the FBI: "That the terms of his surrender be made available for public review and discussion; that the FBI publicly state Conn fled because he found it unfair that others in the case will receive a combined sentence less than his; that the FBI publicly acknowledge Conn has no history of violence and that a caution they issued to members of the public about approaching him was not based on a specific concern; and finally, that the FBI not charge him with additional crimes related to him fleeing."
When asked whether the FBI is negotiating the terms of Conn's surrender through the media, Hess replied: "I'd be more than happy to discuss that with Mr. Conn upon his surrender."
The FBI also said that Conn "or someone purporting to be Mr. Conn with insider knowledge of his case" has an active social media presence, but wouldn't say on which social media platform.
On Monday, Pikeville psychologist Alfred Adkins was convicted by a jury in federal court in Lexington for his part of Conn's fraud scheme, and he now faces up to 20 years in prison. Conn had previously agreed to testify against Adkins as part of his plea deal, according to Hess, "until something triggered him to escape."
This week, the FBI plans to take further action in this case, including possible charges of co-conspirators involved in Conn's disappearance.
"We have been receiving tips," Hess said.
Conn's attorney, Scott White, told The Washington Post that he is urging his client to turn himself in.
"The FBI has certainly increased the need for Eric to surrender immediately to avoid certain consequences of his fleeing," White said Friday. "For example, if he surrenders immediately then there's still a chance to avoid a separate fleeing charge and deal with all of this as a bond violation. Also the bigger problem is that he's scheduled to be sentenced next month. If he's still at large then, he'll receive another charge for not appearing in court. And now the FBI is worried about the public safety if they have to apprehend him in a SWAT-type situation. So, everything about this screams out, 'Eric, turn yourself in.'"