'Here we go’: The battle continues for former clients of Eric C. Conn

Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 7:23 PM EDT
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PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (WYMT) - Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf represents many former clients of imprisoned former Social Security lawyer Eric C. Conn.

Pillersdorf said he has taken the journey with the clients for more than five years as they battled to keep or regain their social security benefits after Conn was charged with fraud. While hundreds were unsuccessful, losing their benefits entirely, 220 people were able to claim their benefits. But now, according to letters from the Social Security Administration, those cases are up for inspection.

The planned hearings, Pillersdorf said, are expected to once again put into question the validity of the claims that provided the 220 clients with social security benefits. But, Pillersdorf said, the entire process is like starting from the beginning.

“We all have a bizarre situation where we’re putting people through hearings about whether or not they were disabled 15 years ago,” said Pillersdorf. "With the pandemic, the only way they can put these people through hearings is if they waive their right to an in-person hearing. Because, basically, the federal buildings are closed.”

A second letter is expected to make its way to the clients soon, asking that they waive the right to an in-person hearing, allowing the hearings to take place virtually. But for former client Robert Martin, a virtual hearing is not on the agenda.

“You know, if we don’t fight back we’re gonna lose,” said Robert. “If they got to show up in person, it’s not as fun to harass somebody; look somebody in the face and say, ‘You’ve got three or four kids and we’re going to take your benefits today.’”

He said he has seen the impacts first-hand, losing his own benefits for a while, but he has also seen people who have gone through much worse by losing the only income they had.

“I just don’t know how much more they can take,” he said. “That’s the sad part.”

Cheryl Martin agrees. She said she was one of the lucky ones, aging into social security benefits before losing her disability benefits. So, when the hit came she still had a source of income.

“I had gotten benefits, then they took them away, and then they gave them back to me,” she said.

After regaining her disability benefits she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Now she is afraid she is losing it all over again.

“(Pillersdorf) explained that they were gonna put it through the whole 9 yards again," she said. “So it’s like, ‘Here we go.’”

She said she hopes to see answers soon, adding that there are too many people relying on these funds who she believes the SSA is overlooking. Though she is not confident things will be cleared up in her lifetime.

“It’s going to end one way or another,” she said. "Either with Social Security or me. You know, it’s kind of a race to see who is going to win.”

Pillersdorf said he is working with a volunteer group from Harvard to try to challenge the new hearings. In the meantime, he is discouraging anyone from waiving their right to an in-person trial.

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