Eric Conn, lawyer who vanished, pleads not guilty to escape

Eric Conn leaving the federal courthouse in Lexington on Wednesday

Fugitive Eric Conn, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to defrauding Social Security for half a billion dollars, couldn't resist signing onto the internet while on the lam in Honduras. The investigation took down Conn, a judge, a doctor and caused almost 900 recipients of disability to have their benefits stripped.

Conn fled on June 2.

The search for Conn lasted just over six months when he was captured at a Pizza Hut in Honduras.

Conn is the flamboyant former attorney who pleaded guilty in March to cheating the Social Security Administration out of millions by falsifying disability claims but fled the country while awaiting sentencing on home detention. Two committed suicide after Conn disappeared. A judge set Conn's trial on those charges for February 2018.

The images of Conn in handcuffs and surrounded by a team of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents brought a certain relief for Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith, the two now-former social security employees who first blew the whistle on Conn's scheme to swindle the government, and ultimately Kentucky and West Virginia families out of $550 million. While almost a dozen law enforcement agencies searched for the fugitive, he was sentenced in absentia last summer to a 12-year prison term - the maximum possible.

But in reality, he ran a criminal group whose members included doctors and judges, authorities said.

But for hundreds of families in Eastern Kentucky and in West Virginia, the painful legacy of Conn's scam will linger for years.

Ned Pillersdorf, an attorney representing many of Conn's former clients, has said Conn caused a "true humanitarian crisis". Timothy Dye went on disability for chronic arthritis after working decades in coal mines.

Conn's attorney, Scott White, entered a not guilty plea to those charges during the hearing.

"With his capture, I'm hoping we can get this ordeal behind us, put him in prison where he belongs and start to undo the damage he has done to his former clients", Pillersdorf said by phone Monday night.

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