Writer-directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte recognize a good old-fashioned scam story when they see one.
Their 2020 Emmy-nominated documentary series McMillion$ revealed how a former police officer managed to rig McDonald’s big-bucks Monopoly game in the 1990s. Their new docuseries for Apple TV+, The Big Conn, delves into an even bigger fraud. They first learned of the story from Peter King, a fellow executive producer on the project.
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“We had dinner with him, and he said, ‘Hey, I heard about this interesting lawyer from this really small town in Kentucky, and it looks like he stole about $550 million,’” Hernandez recalled during an appearance at Deadline’s Contenders Documentary and Unscripted event. “We started looking into it, and the rabbit hole just went deeper and deeper and more insane and more outlandish.”
The convicted fraudster, aptly named Eric C. Conn, cooked up a plot to wring money out of the Social Security Disability Insurance program.
“In that region of the country, Appalachia, where you have from coal mining to a lot of manual labor, there has been a lot of people who are a lot younger applying for these [disability] benefits. And so he found a way to capitalize,” Lazarte explained. “There was a scheme that was concocted between him and a judge to essentially help push people through the system… [Conn] would financially benefit from each person who would get through.”
The law eventually caught up with Conn. Lazarte and Hernandez were able to speak with him for their series.
“We really find that idea fascinating of the rationalizations that people put on to do certain things,” Hernandez said. “With The Big Conn, we really love the idea of there is a person out there that rationalized the idea of stealing $550 million from the U.S. government.”
Conn styled himself as something of a Robin Hood and enjoyed traveling the world on adventures bankrolled by his ill-gotten gains. As with McMillion$, Hernandez and Lazarte weave dramatizations throughout.
“It is something that we very much we lean into in a sense, because we really want you to feel like you’re there,” Hernandez said. “For everything that we do, like with McMillion$ and with The Big Conn, we want you to feel like the story is putting you right there in the moment, and not just, ‘Oh, this is something that happened years ago, and I lived to tell the tale…’ We’re just really helping your imagination along so you can feel what the people were feeling at the time.”
The Big Conn premieres May 6 on Apple TV+.
Check out the panel video above.
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