FBI: Fugitive lawyer linked to social security fraud spotted
Posted July 14
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Federal agents tracking a fugitive Kentucky lawyer involved in a massive Social Security fraud case released surveillance photos Friday indicating that his escape route took him to New Mexico.
The FBI said the weeks-old photos showed Eric Conn at a gas station and a Walmart in New Mexico. The photos were revealed on the same day the flamboyant disability lawyer was supposed to be in federal court to face sentencing.
The sentencing proceeded in Lexington, Kentucky, without Conn. The man who once was one of the country's top disability lawyers was given a 12-year prison term — the maximum possible.
The FBI, meanwhile, revealed more details about Conn's escape, and the path he took to so far elude authorities.
Conn cut off his electronic monitor and fled on June 2 by using a truck registered by a co-conspirator to a dummy company in Montana, Amy Hess, the FBI's top agent in Kentucky, said in a statement Friday.
"The FBI traced the truck to where it was ultimately abandoned for us to find in New Mexico near the border," Hess said.
There's no indication Conn crossed into Mexico, she said.
The FBI did not identify Conn's alleged accomplice.
Conn had been on house arrest, but was in Lexington to meet with prosecutors to plan for his testimony in a related case.
Conn pleaded guilty in March to stealing from the federal government and bribing a judge in a more than $500 million Social Security fraud case. A $20,000 reward is being offered to information leading to his arrest.
In a recent email exchange with the Lexington Herald-Leader, a person claiming to be Conn said he fled the U.S. using a fake passport, escaping to a country that does not have an extradition agreement with the U.S.
The FBI on Friday released two photos that it said showed Conn buying food and water at a gas station in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and pushing a bike at a Walmart in Deming, New Mexico, in early June.
Scott White, Conn's attorney, said the photos look like his client.
"My plea remains the same: Eric, turn yourself in," White said.
Hess portrayed Conn as someone who is increasingly isolated and whose resources continue to dwindle.
"We are actively seizing bank accounts and disrupting other means of support while pursuing law enforcement action against co-conspirators in his flight," Hess said.
Conn, who started his law practice in a trailer in 1993, portrayed himself as "Mr. Social Security." He fueled that persona with outlandish TV commercials and small-scale replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial at his office in eastern Kentucky.
Conn represented thousands in successful claims for Social Security benefits. Many of his clients in the impoverished coalfields of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia have fought to keep their disability checks.
His empire crumbled when authorities discovered he had been bribing a doctor and judge to approve disability claims based on fake medical evidence.