Lawyer: Scammed clients get new shot at disability benefits

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (AP) — Some former clients of a disgraced Kentucky attorney who ran the largest U.S. Social Security scam in history may have a chance to get their lost disability payments back.

An agreement reached with the Social Security Administration would allow about 500 former clients of ex-disability attorney Eric Conn to request a new hearing to have their benefits reinstated, according to a statement by attorney Ned Pillersdorf. Pillersdorf and dozens of other lawyers have worked with former Conn clients who lost their benefits after he was charged in the scam.

The clients lost their benefits about seven years ago.

Pillersdorf said Tuesday that the agreement was prompted by several federal court rulings in their favor. He said he believed a change in leadership at the Social Security Administration and a recent documentary on Conn helped to nudge the agreement along.

He said there have been “many dark days” since Conn’s fraud came to light.

“The sun is shining in Appalachia today,” he said.

After Conn’s fraud was exposed, about 1,700 of Conn’s former clients went through hearings to reapply for their benefits, and roughly half lost them. About 230 of those who lost benefits managed to get them restored years later by court orders. The rest have gone years without the government payments.

Pillersdorf said the government would notify the former Conn clients that they can request a hearing as part of the agreement. If they prevail in their hearings, they could receive years of back pay, he said.

Conn bribed doctors to falsify medical records for his clients and then paid a judge to approve the lifetime benefits, authorities said. After striking a plea agreement in 2017, he fled the country, and federal agents caught him six months later in Honduras.

His initial plea agreement would have put him in prison for 12 years. After Conn’s capture, a federal judge sentenced him in 2018 to an additional 15 years behind bars for what authorities called a scheme to defraud the government of $500 million in disability benefits.