This story has been updated.
In a break for the governmentwide effort to thwart improper payments, the Justice Department on Friday announced a guilty plea by a Kentucky disability attorney involved in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration of as much as $550 million.
Eric Christopher Conn, 56, of Pikeville, Ky., pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky to one count of theft of government money and one count of payment of gratuities.
From October 2004 to April 2016, according to the plea, “Conn participated in a scheme with former SSA administrative law judge David Daugherty and multiple doctors that involved the submission of thousands of falsified medical documents to the SSA. Conn and his co-conspirators obligated the SSA to pay more than $550 million in lifetime benefits to claimants for these fraudulent submissions.”
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Conn’s Floyd County firm spent two decades representing claimants, and he admitted in his plea that he paid Daugherty about $10,000 a month to award disability benefits to 1,700 claimants for whom Conn submitted falsified medical documents from December 2004 through April 2011, Justice reported.
Daugherty and a clinical psychologist named Alfred Bradley Adkins, who is alleged to have signed inaccurate evaluation reports for disability claimants before the patients were examined, were indicted separately. They were charged with conspiracy, fraud, false statements, money laundering and related offenses.
Conn admitted that he received more than $5.7 million in representative fees from SSA based upon the fraudulent claims.
Sentencing for Conn is set for July 14.
The development was welcomed by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has been mulling legislation addressing disability fraud.
The plea bargain was obtained by Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, along with special agents from SSA’s Office of Inspector General Philadelphia Field Division; the FBI’s Louisville, Ky., Field Division; the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations field office in Nashville; and the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general office in Atlanta.