Former Prestonsburg attorney Eric C. Conn is asking federal judges to vacate his sentence.
Conn, acting on his own behalf, filed a motion this month, asking a federal judge to set aside his sentence.
Last September, Conn was sentenced to serve 27 years in federal prison for his role in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration.
He pled guilty in 2017 to stealing from the government through fraudulent disability claims and bribing a Social Security judge, accepting a plea deal that netted him 12 years behind bars.
But before the sentence could be imposed, Conn fled the country and was recaptured in Honduras, after six months on the run. Federal authorities filed more charges against Conn, and he pleaded guilty in 2018 to conspiracy to escape, conspiracy to retaliate against a witness and conspiracy to defraud the SSA. In that plea deal, he was sentenced to 15 years, for a total sentence of 27 years for all charges against him.
In his motion to vacate that sentence, Conn alleges that his counsel Scott White in the “pre-leaving for Honduras charge” — had a conflict of interest and could not represent him fairly because he was allegedly “under investigation” as part of Conn’s case. He claims he had a meeting with three U.S. attorneys, an FBI investigator and two agents with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General after he returned from Honduras. He reported that White traveled to Central America after Conn escaped and fled to Honduras and claimed that investigators wanted to know whether White knew he was planning to escape.
Conn also argues in the motion that the sentence should be vacated because his other lawyer, Willis Coffey, was “ineffective” for advising him to plead guilty to escape. Conn claims that he could not have escaped because he was not in custody at the time of his escape.
“Escape was not a charge relevant to (Conn) as he was released pending trial subject to various terms and conditions,” he wrote in the motion.
He complained about not having access to records in his case while in federal custody.
“Once again (Conn) finds himself in the middle of a ‘lockdown’ at this entire facility while a deadline is nigh,” he wrote, later going on to explain that he doesn’t have any documents available in his cell to prepare his motion.
He is being housed in a federal prison in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia.
Former clients of Conn lost their Social Security benefits following his indictment, and nonprofit lawyers from this region and other states have been working to get those benefits reinstated for years. In 2018, the Court of Appeals found that redetermination hearings the SSA required of former Conn clients to be unconstitutional, but the SSA continued to fight the reinstatement of benefits in court until this year.
Attorney Ned Pillersdorf reported on social media on Tuesday, however, that hundreds of former Conn clients are now receiving those benefits. He and others are still working on class action lawsuits for other former Conn clients.
On Oct. 17, U.S. Rep Harold “Hal” Rogers sent a letter to the SSA urging the administration to “immediately reinstate benefits” to former Conn clients.
“While I am grateful that the SSA, by virtue of court order, has recently reinstated benefits to some 200 former Conn clients, many individuals remain without benefits. The uncertainty and delay surrounding reinstatement continue to add to the injustice experienced by the former clients,” wrote Rogers. “I urge the SSA to immediately reinstate all benefits to all former clients, especially those whose redetermination hearing have been ruled unconstitutional.”
“These individuals have been denied justice, due process, and deserve access to their benefits as soon as possible,” Rogers stated in the letter. “Without a fair and constitutional hearing, SSA should not strip any individual of the disability benefits they rely on. A true humanitarian crisis is unfolding, and the Conn victims continue to be held hostage, despite absolutely no wrong doing of their own.”
Rogers questioned the status of medical benefits for Conn clients, as well as why some beneficiaries are not receiving the full disability amount they are entitled to.