A judge has ruled that embattled disability attorney Eric C. Conn should pay $31 million in damages and penalties to the federal government and two former Social Security Administration employees who tried to blow the whistle on his fraudulent conduct, according to an attorney in the case.
U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar ruled in the case after a hearing Tuesday, said Mark Wohlander, who represents the whistleblowers.
The government had sought a total of $31.4 million in the case — $12.2 million in damages and $19.2 million in penalties, based on the maximum penalty of $11,000 for each of the 1,746 fraudulent claims it identified.
Judgments against Conn are piling up, however, so it’s not clear how much of the money the whistleblowers can collect.
Conn pleaded guilty March 24 to stealing from the Social Security Administration and paying bribes to a judge.
That deal calls for him to pay the government $5.7 million, representing the amount of fraudulent fees he got, and reimburse Social Security $46 million it paid in disability claims in which Conn used fraudulent information.
Conn admitted he submitted false medical information in seeking disability checks for more than 1,700 people, and said he paid about $10,000 a month to an administrative law judge, David B. Daughterty, who rubber-stamped claims for Conn.
Wohlander said his clients, Jennifer Griffith and Sarah Carver, deserve compensation for their longstanding efforts to expose the wrongdoing.
Both worked at the Social Security appeals office in Huntington, W.Va., where Daugherty worked, and repeatedly told superiors and others about the alleged impropriety.
If the Social Security Administration investigated the allegations properly, the fraud could have been rooted out earlier, Wohlander said.
“This did not have to happen,” he said.
Griffith and Carver filed a false-claims lawsuit against Conn and Daugherty that led to the $31 million judgment. In those lawsuits, whistleblowers are entitled to a share of what the government collects.
Wohlander said their efforts also ultimately led to the criminal case against Conn.
Wohlander said they hope to work out a settlement with the government for a share of what it collects.