House Republicans are using the case as a chance to praise Trump's Justice Department. (Photo: ThinkStock)

Social Security Disability Insurance lawyer last week pleaded guilty in federal court to participating in a fraudulent effort to obtain $550 million in SSDI benefits for clients.

Eric Christopher Conn of Pikeville, Kentucky, entered the guilty plea Friday before U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves of the Eastern District of Kentucky, according to officials at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Justice Department lawyers accused Conn of working with a former Social Security Administration and multiple doctors to submit falsified medical documents to the SSA disability claim determination system.

Related: Your client doesn’t “need” SSDI? Really?

Conn admitted, in connection with the guilty plea, that he paid an administrative law judge about $10,000 a month to award disability benefits to clients, according to court documents.

Conn and his lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Conn denied the allegations in earlier court documents. On March 13, he submitted a written response continuing to deny the government’s allegations.

“Conn successfully obtained benefits for his clients,” according to the pleadings. “But who other than the SSA in its claw back attempts here, and in terminating existing benefits based on some association theory, has said the claims were false and the awards ill-gotten?”

Conn asserted his constitutional right against self-incrimination at some points during testimony, and the government’s efforts to seek summary judgment against Conn “with regard to penalties is not appropriate,” according to the pleadings. “By forcefully seeking criminal penalties the United States should not benefit from Conn being, practically speaking, forced into interposing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.”

Republicans at the House Ways & Means Committee hailed the announcement of the guilty plea as an important step in efforts to fight SSDI fraud.

“Americans have the right to expect that those in positions of trust, like lawyers, aren’t trying to cheat the system, and that disability benefits only go to those who deserve them,” Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, chairman of the Ways & Means Social Security subcommittee, said in a statement issued Monday.

Problems with SSDI solvency and the SSDI claim determination process can have a big effect on agents and others in the private disability insurance market, because issuers of many private disability insurance policies subtract SSDI benefits payments from the benefits amounts claimants are supposed to receive when calculating the size of the private disability benefits payment totals.

The performance of the SSDI system may also be of some interest to financial advisors involved in comprehensive financial planning. Getting into the SSDI program can provide a modest monthly income stream for successful claimants, and it can also help people under 65 get into Medicare early. The uncertainty surrounding the ability to collect SSDI benefits, and to get into Medicare early, may affect any projections concerning the possibility effects of disability risk on a comprehensive planning client’s finances.

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