Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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February 19, 2013

Attorney, former judge accused of fraud in lawsuit

LOUISVILLE — Two Social Security Administration employees have accused an eastern Kentucky attorney who specializes in disability claims and a former administrative judge of scheming to defraud the federal government of millions of dollars.

The lawsuit unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Pikeville accuses lawyer Eric C. Conn, who has offices in Ashland and Stanville, and former judge David Daugherty, who worked in the Huntington, W.Va., office of the Social Security Administration, of manipulating the system for assigning appeals in disability claims to ensure Daugherty heard Conn's cases.

Attempts to locate Daugherty on Tuesday were unsuccessful. A message left for Conn was not immediately returned.

Administrative law judges in Huntington, W.Va., hear cases in which people from eastern Kentucky and elsewhere appealed the federal government's decisions to turn down their disability claims.

The lawsuit alleges that Daugherty, who retired in July 2011, awarded disability payments to Conn's clients at a higher rate than other judges did. In the fiscal year 2012, Daugherty approved 99.7 percent of all the disability claims that came before him. The national average that year was 62 percent.

The two people who sued, Jennifer L. Griffith and Sarah Carver, said Daugherty often rubber-stamped requests for 20 of Conn's clients a day and scheduled hearings at 10-minute intervals, while other judges spent 30 to 60 minutes in each hearing. Griffith left the Social Security Administration in 2007, while Carver works as a case technician in the West Virginia office of the agency.

The two said Conn, who describes himself online as "Mr. Social Security," coordinated the plot with Daugherty.

Daugherty retired from the Social Security Administration in July 2011 after being placed on administrative leave while an investigation of his handling of cases took place.

Attorneys in Lexington and the District of Columbia filed the complaint for the government under the federal False Claims Act. It seeks to recover money from Conn that he allegedly received as a result of fraud.

The complaint was filed in October 2011 but remained sealed until Tuesday. The federal government had been given an opportunity to intervene in the litigation, but opted not to. The reasons for the government declining to join the suit were not made public.

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