A Kentucky lawyer involved in a half-a-billion-dollar Social Security disability fraud scheme has pleaded guilty.
Eric C. Conn, a flashy lawyer in the mold of the Breaking Bad character Saul Goodman, worked with an administrative judge and doctors to approve sham disability claims. The scheme resulted in fraudulent claims that cost the government $550 million, with Conn himself earning over $5.7 million.
The Department of Justice announced Conn pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government money and one count of payment of gratuities on Friday.
"According to the plea, from October 2004 to April 6, 2016, Conn participated in a scheme with former SSA administrative law judge David B. Daugherty and multiple doctors that involved the submission of thousands of falsified medical documents to the [Social Security Administration] SSA," the government said. "As a result of the scheme, Conn and his co-conspirators obligated the SSA to pay more than $550 million in lifetime benefits to claimants for these fraudulent submissions."
Over the seven-year period, Conn paid Daugherty $10,000 a month to approve fraudulent disability claims to clients of Conn.
"As part of his plea, Conn admitted that he submitted the falsified medical documents, and Daugherty authored decisions granting disability benefits, in well over 1,700 claimants' cases," the Department of Justice said. "Conn admitted that he paid medical professionals to sign medical forms that he fabricated before evaluations of claimants took place."
The widespread disability fraud scheme was revealed in 2013, after a two-year investigation led by Tom Coburn, the former Republican senator from Oklahoma.
Conn ran a flashy practice in Floyd County, Kentucky, where he erected a $500,000 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln, and a replica of the Statue of Liberty outside his office. Conn called himself "Mr. Social Security" and used massive billboards and hired women known as "Conn's Hotties" to attract clients.
He also filmed a music video with Amber Lee Ettinger, who became known as the "Obama Girl" after she released a viral video of her singing she had a "crush on Obama" in 2007. Conn paid Ettinger $25,000 to appear in his video, where she sang that Conn can "help Obama" and "learned Spanish off a tape."
Conn said he hired Ettinger because she "looked good, and I thought it'd be fun."
Conn also paid a former Miss Kentucky USA a $70,000 salary for public relations, the Lexington Herald Leader reported.
Conn was one of the highest-paid disability lawyers in the country, receiving $23 million from the Social Security Administration over a 10-year period, the paper reported.
Conn was indicted last year, along with Judge Daugherty and Alfred Adkins, a clinical psychologist who performed medical evaluations for Conn for seven years. Adkins signed off on fraudulent medical evaluations for physical or mental disabilities for Conn's clients.
Conn will be sentenced in July. Several of Conn's charges were dropped as part of his plea agreement, and he now faces up to 12 years in prison. He plans on selling his Abraham Lincoln statue to help pay back what he owes the government.