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Rural Blog: Eastern Kentucky lawyer among three charged with defrauding federal disability program


A lawyer from Kentucky along with a doctor and former Social Security disability judge in Central Appalachia have been charged with massive fraud of the Federal Disability Insurance Program, a major source of income in the rural region.

Charged are Eric Conn of Stanville, Ky., who had the third-largest disability law practice in the U.S.; a psychologist, Dr. Alfred Bradley Adkins; and David Daugherty, who resigned his administrative law judgeship at Huntington, W.Va., in 2011 after The Wall Street Journal began probing his unusual generosity: approving all 729 appeals he considered in the first half of that fiscal year.

 Eric Conn of Stanville, Ky., who had the third-largest disability law practice in the U.S., advertised himself as Mr. Social Security (Photo from Rural Blog)

Eric Conn of Stanville, Ky., who had the third-largest disability law practice in the U.S., advertised himself as Mr. Social Security (Photo from Rural Blog)

The Senate Committee on Government Affairs reported in 2013 that Daugherty approved virtually all the 1,823 appeals submitted to him by Conn, and that Conn paid five doctors roughly $2 million to regularly sign off on bogus medical forms that had been manufactured and filled out ahead of time by Conn’s staff.

The operation was the topic of a “60 Minutes” report by CBS. It reported that in Appalachian Kentucky and West Virginia, more than a quarter of a million people, or 10 to 15 percent of the population, are on disability benefits, three times the national average. Disabillity cases are prevalent in rural areas where men without a high-school diploma are injured and unable, or less able, to perform the sort of manual labor that once sustained them.

The indictment also lists three unnamed ‘unindicted co-conspirators,’ including two other doctors Conn used and one of Conn’s former office managers,” John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“The charges include mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to retaliate against a witness, making false statements and money laundering,” Cheves writes. “The charges carry criminal penalties of up to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. The government also seeks more than $5 million in forfeited assets from the defendants.”

Conn’s clients have been awarded $500 million in claims, and he has collected at least $35 million in legal fees from the federal government, Cheves reports.

Conn was arrested Monday and was in court Tuesday.

Last year, Social Security reopened hundreds of Conn’s cases and told his clients that their benefits could be suspended unless they provided more evidence of their disability.

“After a request by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, Social Security officials agreed to continue people’s disability checks while redetermining their eligibility,” Cheves reports. “Those hearings are underway.”

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.


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