NewsLEX 18 In-Depth


Eric Conn saga continues: Former clients get letters about upcoming hearings over benefits

Posted at 7:27 PM, Jul 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-15 17:11:48-04

BOYD COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — While former eastern Kentucky attorney Eric Conn, who defrauded the government and taxpayers over half a billion dollars is behind bars, his former clients are still fighting to prove they had nothing to do with it and deserve their benefits.

Former Conn clients are now reporting they have received letters in the mail from the Social Security Administration (SSA), informing them of an upcoming hearing where they'll have to prove they deserve or deserved disability benefits.

Investigators say Conn recruited clients and filed at least 1,748 social security fraudulent applications on their behalf. Many of those people lost their benefits once the fraud was revealed.

According to attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who represents hundreds of former Conn clients, 235 former clients got their benefits back after years of hearings through individual court orders. He, along with other lawyers and law students stepped up to help those impacted for free because they couldn't be paid to assist them.

Pillersdorf believes that group of 235 is the first to be targeted in a new round of hearings. He's representing eight former clients in administrative hearings in Hazard and Lexington in September.

"The former current clients are certainly terrified of new hearings. We're very concerned that if such hearings happened, they'd have a very difficult task of keeping their benefits. Because the hearings will be focused on whether or not these people can prove they were disabled 15 years ago," said Pillersdorf.

Round one of hearings for the nearly 2,000 impacted by Conn's fraud, ended abruptly in 2018 after only 130 hearings were completed.

"Unfortunately, like zombies, so security ministration is back. And we're looking at another round of mass hearings," said Pillersdorf.

Pillersdorf believes at some point all of them may face an administrative hearing to prove they were disabled at the time the applications were submitted on their behalf by Conn. He is trying to recruit pro-bono legal help for as many as 2,000 just in case.

"You're talking about the poorest people in the most economically distressed areas in the nation," said Pillersdorf. "We're actively recruiting volunteer lawyers and volunteer law students because it's disastrous if these people try to represent themselves."

500 former clients are still without benefits. Pillersdorf is also working on a class action lawsuit filed in Pikeville a year ago to recover their losses and return the benefits he says many need to survive.

"For seven years, unfortunately, I've been running a suicide hotline. There have been a number of suicides and it's created a truly humanitarian crisis. I've got clients living under bridges, sleeping in their cars," he explained.

His goal is no more hearings and to put the saga of what he calls "bullying" to an end. However, SSA says they are just following the law.

We reached out to SSA to find out how many letters were sent out and how many hearings would be scheduled in total.

They did not answer those questions.

A spokesperson with the press office, Nicole Tiggemann, sent this statement:

"The Social Security Act requires that the agency redetermine the entitlement of any person when there is a reason to believe fraud or similar fault was involved in the person's benefit application. It is well-documented that former attorney Eric Conn submitted false or fraudulent evidence in thousands of benefits claims. Under these circumstances, the agency is required by law to review whether the affected beneficiaries and recipients were actually disabled and thus entitled to benefits. While several courts have found our redetermination process requires additional procedural protections, no court has found that agency should not conduct redeterminations. We are taking action to ensure compliance with court decisions as well as our obligations under the Social Security Act. Because litigation is still pending related to some of Conn's former clients, we cannot comment further."

Meanwhile, several other clients are in a holding pattern, wondering if their letter is coming next.