Indictment: Fugitive Kentucky lawyer had help in his escape

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A fugitive Kentucky lawyer embroiled in a massive Social Security fraud case had help in carrying out the escape plot he hatched a year before fleeing, according to a federal indictment.

The newly released indictment alleges that an employee of Eric Conn, the missing lawyer, opened a bank account that Conn used to transfer money out of the country.

It also claims that the employee, Curtis Lee Wyatt, tested security at the U.S-Mexico border at Conn's direction, and purchased a pickup truck for use in Conn's escape in early June.

The indictment — returned more than a month ago but unsealed Monday — charges Wyatt with aiding in Conn's escape, abetting Conn's failure to appear and lying to the FBI.

The indictment tacked on escape and failure to appear charges against Conn, whose age the FBI lists as 57.

Conn pleaded guilty in March to stealing from the federal government and bribing a judge in a more than $500 million Social Security fraud case. The man who once was one of the country's top disability lawyers was given a 12-year prison term — the maximum possible — in a sentencing that proceeded this summer despite his disappearance.

Just weeks before his sentencing, Conn cut off his electronic monitor and fled on June 2. The flamboyant attorney was on home detention while awaiting sentencing, but was in Lexington, Kentucky, at the permission of federal authorities to meet with his attorney and prosecutors.

The indictment claims that Conn and Wyatt joined with an unindicted co-conspirator in carrying out the escape plot that began around June 2016 — two months after Conn was first indicted and a year before his disappearance.

It alleges that Conn transferred money outside the United States through a bank account opened by Wyatt and controlled by the unindicted co-conspirator.

At Conn's direction, Wyatt crossed into Mexico at pedestrian checkpoint border locations in Arizona and New Mexico in April to assess security measures, the indictment said.

In May, Wyatt purchased a pickup truck, paying $3,425 in cash, in Kentucky, it said. Wyatt drove the vehicle from Pikeville, Kentucky, to Lexington around June 1, delivering it to Conn, it said. The next day, Wyatt returned to Pikeville in an SUV that Conn drove to Lexington, according to the indictment.

Wyatt gave the SUV's keys to the alleged co-conspirator, the indictment said. The unnamed co-conspirator texted Conn, saying: "The car thing is a done thing. I need to do something with what was sent back to me from the car. I don't have any place to put it."

The indictment did not elaborate on the message's meaning.

In his escape, Conn is accused of putting his electronic ankle monitor inside a pouch with a metallic lining meant to suppress electronic signals. The bag was shipped to Wyatt's address in Raccoon, Kentucky, and he delivered it to Conn in Lexington, the indictment said.

The indictment did not say that Conn crossed the border into Mexico.

Wyatt's attorney, Thomas Lyons, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. He told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he thought his client would receive a summons for an initial court appearance this week. Lyons told the newspaper he did not know the identity of the alleged co-conspirator.

Conn started his law practice in a trailer in 1993 and built it into one of the country's most lucrative disability law firms. He portrayed himself as "Mr. Social Security," a persona fueled by outlandish TV commercials and small-scale replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial at his office in eastern Kentucky.

His empire crumbled when authorities discovered he had been bribing a doctor and judge to approve disability claims based on fake medical evidence.

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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