Kentucky lawyer who vanished pleads not guilty to escape

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A Kentucky lawyer who vanished for six months to elude prison time in a Social Security fraud case now faces a much harsher sentence that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life, his attorney acknowledged Wednesday.

Eric Conn was in a federal courtroom in Lexington, Kentucky, the day after he was flown back to the United States following his capture outside a Pizza Hut in Honduras.

Conn’s legal woes now go beyond his plea deal in the massive fraud case. He now faces escape and failure to appear charges outlined in an indictment unsealed in October while the attorney was still missing. Conn’s attorney, Scott White, entered a not guilty plea to those charges during the hearing.

White told reporters that he’s anticipating that federal prosecutors will attempt to pursue more than a dozen charges against Conn that would have been dropped as part of his original plea deal. If Conn is ultimately convicted on those charges as well as the escape-related charges, he could face a potential life sentence, White said.

White later told reporters that Conn was calm when they met for about 40 minutes before the hearing.

“He’s obviously sad that he’s back here in the sense of having to deal with this stuff that he thought he had put behind him,” White said.

Conn, 57, was handcuffed and wore a yellow jail outfit at the hearing. After taking his seat, he looked around the courtroom and nodded toward the prosecution team. Conn only spoke when asked questions by the U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier and offered brief replies.

Wier set a bond violation hearing in Conn’s case for Dec. 28.

Prosecutors will present court filings to indicate whether they intend to pursue those original charges.

A federal prosecutor declined to comment after the hearing.

White said that he intends to fight any efforts to have Conn face those charges.

“That completely changes the tenor of what we’ve got to do,” White said.

Conn was sentenced in absentia last summer to a 12-year prison term for stealing from the government and bribing a judge as part of the more than $500 million Social Security fraud case.

“Here’s a guy that really rolled the dice,” White said, “because the deal we got for him is he was going to do no more than 85 per cent of 12 years.”

He said when he met with Conn on Wednesday morning, Conn asked about his mother and had questions about the case and where he’ll be held.

Kentucky

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Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Fugitive lawyer Eric Conn is taken into custody by FBI agents on the tarmac at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday. Conn, who spent six months on the run after pleading guilty in a $500 million Social Security fraud scheme, was being flown back to Kentucky on Tuesday after he was caught outside a Pizza Hut in Honduras.

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