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Lawyer Admits Part in $550 Million Fraud on Government

Maybe it was the 19-foot tall statue of Abraham Lincoln -- a replica of the statue at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. -- outside the Kentucky law office that got investigators' attention.

After all, attorney Eric Christopher Conn erected the tribute piece to attract people to his practice. But it was his payments to an administrative law judge that have brought Conn -- and his statue -- down.

Conn, 56, has pleaded guilty in a $550 million fraud of the Social Security Administration. He has agreed to return $5.7 million he received in fees and to pay $46.5 million in restitution by selling his home, his law building, and his statue.

"Fraudulent in Nature"

"I submitted or allowed the submission of medical records that I knew to be fraudulent in nature," Conn told U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves at the plea hearing.

The admission, which carries up to a 12-year-sentence, understates the breadth of the crime. According to reports, Conn included a judge, doctors, and others in the scheme involving more than 1,700 cases over a 12-year period.

Government workers in the Social Security Administration first noticed a problem at an appeals office, where Conn presented cases to former judge David B. Daugherty. A federal investigation uncovered evidence that Conn was paying doctors $300 to $450 to sign falsified documents to prove disability claims.

Daugherty allegedly approached Conn about his burgeoning practice, and they later agreed to share in the profits from the cases. According to court records, Conn paid the judge about $10,000 a month for six years beginning in 2004.

The Judge, the Lawyer, the Doctor and the Statue

Conn, Daugherty and psychologist Alfred Bradley Adkins were indicted and charged with conspiracy, fraud, false statements and money laundering last year. The cases against Daugherty and Adkins are pending.

The fate of the tribute to Lincoln, who was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, also remains in the balance. The local Middlecreek National Battlefield Foundation has started a campaign to buy the statue.

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