Writer-directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte recognize a good old-fashioned scam story when they see one.
Their documentary series nominated for the 2020 Emmy Awards McMillion$ revealed how a former cop managed to rig McDonald’s big-money Monopoly game in the 1990s. Their new docuseries for Apple TV+, The big con, plunges into even greater fraud. They first learned the story from Peter King, another executive producer on the project.
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“We had dinner with him, and he said, ‘Hey, I heard about this interesting attorney from this very small town in Kentucky, and it looks like he stole about $550 million,'” recalls Hernandez during an appearance on Deadline’s Contenders documentary and Unscripted Event. “We started looking at it, and the rabbit hole got deeper and deeper, crazier and weirder.”
The convicted fraudster, aptly named Eric C. Conn, concocted a conspiracy to extract money from Social Security’s disability insurance program.
“In that part of the country, Appalachia, where you have everything from coal mining to a lot of manual labor, there have been a lot of people who are much younger applying for these [disability] advantages. And so he found a way to capitalize,” Lazarte explained. “There was a scheme that was concocted between him and a judge to basically help push people through the system… [Conn] would benefit financially from each passing person.
The law finally caught up with Conn. Lazarte and Hernandez were able to talk to him for their series.
“We really find this idea fascinating of the rationalizations that people put in place to do certain things,” Hernandez said. “With The big conwe really like the idea that there is a person there who has rationalized the idea of stealing $550 million from the US government.
Conn pretended to be a Robin Hood and enjoyed traveling the world on adventures funded by his ill-gotten gains. Like with McMillion$Hernandez and Lazarte weave dramatizations throughout.
“It’s something that we lean into a lot in a way, because we really want you to feel like you’re there,” Hernandez said. “For everything we do, as with McMillion$ and with The big conwe want you to feel like the story is pulling you into the moment, not just, “Oh, this was something that happened years ago, and I lived to tell the story…” We really help your imagination so you can feel what people felt at the time.
the Grand Conn premieres May 6 on Apple TV+.
Check back Monday for the panel video.