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Lawyer releases statement in response to fraud allegations

By: Whitney Burks, Matthew Rand Email
By: Whitney Burks, Matthew Rand Email
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VARIOUS LOCATIONS (WYMT/CBS/AP) - The following statement was released Wednesday on behalf of Eric C. Conn and the Eric C. Conn Law Firm.

"After fourteen years of service in the United States Army as an enlisted man and a commissioned officer, and service in the first Gulf War, I was honorably discharged with the rank of Captain. During my Gulf War tour of duty, I was the personal assistant to Commanding General Gus Pagonis.
After the Army, I came back to Kentucky and took the Kentucky Bar Exam. While studying for the Kentucky Bar Exam, I taught Economics at Morehead State University. Upon passage of the Kentucky Bar Exam, I opened a law office in my home community of Stanville, Kentucky. My mother and dad gave me a used mobile home where I opened my first office.
Early on, I decided that the field of Social Security disability law was not being practiced to the level contemplated by federal statutes. Social Security disability exists to provide a safety net for persons who, by reason of disability, are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Protection from financial ruin is the goal of the Social Security Act, and it is a part of the compact between Americans and their government.
Through the years, I have been a successful Social Security practitioner and I am one of only 58 Board Certified Social Security practitioners in the United States. I have represented thousands of clients zealously and I am proud to have succeeded in helping my clients avert economic disaster. During this time, I have also made a good living, paid my taxes, donated generously to the communities where I work, and employed more than thirty people in my law practice.
The practice of Social Security disability law is unlike any other form of law practice. Ordinary civil and criminal cases in trial and appellate courts are adversarial, with counsel representing each of the sides. Social Security disability practice is otherwise. In Social Security cases, the claimant is usually represented by counsel but the government is not. The Administrative Law Judge who hears the case is charged with applying the law to the facts presented by the claimant’s counsel. Administrative law judges routinely contact claimant’s attorneys, particularly those with high-volume practices, for the purpose of scheduling and case management. These practices are entirely proper under Social Security regulations.
I have practiced Social Security disability law for twenty years. I have advertised extensively and represented every claimant to the best of my ability. When changes in the law occurred, I studied those changes in an effort to better represent the people who put their faith in me. I have served my clients with honor and dignity.
While I am not now at liberty, on the advice of counsel, to fully address all of the accusations against me, in due course, the truth will be forthcoming. For now, I request that public judgment be withheld until all the facts are known."

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Kentucky Bar Association official says the agency is reviewing accusations that an eastern Kentucky disability lawyer collaborated with a former West Virginia judge to improperly award disability benefits to hundreds of applicants.

Thomas Glover, chief bar counsel, told the Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/17fxEmC) that the agency is "looking at" the allegations against Eric C. Conn, and they could affect his license if proven true. Conn has an office in Stanville, near the West Virginia border.

The accusations against him were in a report released Monday by congressional investigators. It accused Conn of scheming with retired administrative law Judge David B. Daugherty to approve more than 1,800 disability cases from 2006 to 2010.

Conn declined to answer questions during a Senate hearing, asserting his constitutional right against self-incrimination. Daugherty left the hearing before being called to testify.
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An Eastern Kentucky lawyer is under fire from the U.S. Senate for allegations of disability fraud.

Stanville attorney Eric C. Conn was at the center of a multi-year investigation into claims that he took part in a scheme to award disability insurance to hundreds of people that should not have been eligible.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee looked into Conn's actions as part of a broader investigation of waste and fraud within the Social Security Disability Insurance program.

Kentucky ties Alabama for the third highest percentage of its population on disability. Only Arkansas and West Virginia have more.

Eric C. Conn has been making headlines a lot lately. Most recently he was highlighted by 60 Minutes for allegations of fraudulent disability claims handled by his office and retired West Virginia Administrative Judge David B. Daugherty, allegations the Senate oversight committee found to be true.

"The investigative report we are releasing details how one lawyer, one judge, and a group of doctors financially benefited by working together to manufacture bogus, fraudulent medical evidence to award disability benefits to over 1,800 people," said Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Conn's law offices are located in Floyd County, which is tied with Pike at number one in the state for disability claims. The top ten are all in Eastern Kentucky.

"Mr. Conn was paid millions of dollars in attorney's fees, becoming as Dr. Coburn said in 2010, the third highest-paid disability lawyer at the Social Security Administration, with fees totaling almost four million dollars," said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.

Conn refused to answer any questions when called to testify, invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.

"My lawyer ... sent a letter on October 7th explaining the reasons that I am not going to testify today, and pursuant to that letter, I respectfully assert my constitutional right not to testify today, sir," Conn said before the committee.

Senator Carl Levin called the investigation "a case study of behavior that is abusive, fraudulent, longstanding, and intolerable."

The investigation comes as lawmakers ponder the future of the disability insurance program.

Senator Tom Coburn says the program's trust fund could run out in as little as 18 months.
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Eric C. Conn and his law firm were targeted Sunday night in a report on CBS's 60 minutes, but one lawyer believes there may be other reasons why disability numbers are growing in the mountains.

Many say relying on Social Security Disability benefits is becoming a way of life in Eastern Kentucky, but accusations are flying that some lawyers are helping thousands of ineligible people draw a check.

A report on CBS's 60 Minutes takes aim at Eric Conn's law firm in Floyd County saying Conn teamed up with Social Security Judge David Daugherty to push nearly 2,000 cases through the system, but Conn did not want to talk to CBS about the claims and was not available Monday to talk to us either.

"I'm not normally a shy person but I think it's best I speak in the legal realm rather than here," he told the CBS crew.

Former State Representative Herbert 'Herbie' Deskins is also a practicing administrative lawyer in Pikeville. He says while there is a larger number of Social Security claimants in this area that can be attributed to coal and logging industries.

"Those are two of the most difficult jobs that have high rates of injuries, that have high rates of disease," he said.

But Deskins says he does believe some people abuse the system, and he also believes some lawyers are behind it.

With nearly 210,000 disabled workers in Kentucky ... More than 11,000 of those are in Pike and Floyd Counties.

"The placing of pictures on billboards, the title 'Mr. Social Security' and those things lead to people thinking that it is a system that can be abused," said Deskins.
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Following a "60 Minutes" report on the state of the federal disability program and the work he's doing to look into the system, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., predicted on "CBS This Morning" that the federal government, under Obamacare, is going to be defrauded "to the tune of billions and billions of dollars."

"What we need to do is have a discussion," he said. "This is a great example. The Social Security/Disability system, we need to fix it. Nobody wants to fix it. Nobody wants to fix the fraud in Medicare. We have a new program coming out, the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obamacare, and there's no income verification at all. So we know that's going to get defrauded to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, so why would we continue to do the same thing that put us in trouble that we're in?"

Coburn, who is a doctor, has been reviewing the insurance disability system for the past two years. He claims one in four cases adjudicated by the system are improperly handled.

"What we found was collusion and most likely fraud and extortion in this particular office, as well as terrible management by Social Security itself in terms of its own rules and its own guidelines. The other thing we found is that the people inside the Social Security Office, not the judges, but the people actually making determinations do a pretty good job, but then it's totally ignored by the (administrative law judges) and the trial bar when, in fact, they try to go secure somebody's disability when, in fact, that are not disabled."

Coburn said the judge assessed by his team assigned more than $5 billion worth of claims just in the last four or five years. And while it is unknown the number of claims that are legitimate or not, Coburn said, "what we do know is this judge, it appears, didn't actually look at the cases, just decided them on the record without hearing the testimony from either the attorney, the individual, or Social Security or reading actually the full file on the individual's claim."

The average monthly benefit is $1,129, according to the Social Security Administration.

The problem with the system is "acute," Coburn said. "(In) probably less than 18 months, the Social Security and Disability System will run out of money and that means people who are truly disabled are going to take a serious cut in the disability payments that they get today. ... One is continuing disability review, which the Social Security system has failed at. They send you a postcard and ask are you continuously disabled and of course anybody that's getting a good-sized check is going to say 'yes' rather than 'no,' so there's no real organized effort to take people off of disability once their injury has resolved."

Turning to the government shutdown, Coburn said "nobody's talking" and sought to dispel what he said is a rumor going around in the media. "The debt ceiling and the (continuing resolution) are the same thing. There is no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country because it's never been not increased, and that's why we're $17 trillion in debt and I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast that we'll default. We won't. We'll continue to pay our interest and continue to redeem bonds and we'll issue new bonds to replace those. So it's not entirely accurate. What we need to do is have a discussion."


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