JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — More than two dozen people have been charged in Illinois with fraudulently obtaining pandemic relief money, and authorities say some of them were behind bars when they used the help money to pay bail and get out of jail.
Joliet Police Chief William Evans said Wednesday that 25 people were part of the alleged fraud scheme to obtain Paycheck Protection Program checks without operating actual businesses.
Fifteen of the defendants had been arrested by Wednesday and arrest warrants were outstanding for 10 others. All face charges including wire fraud, theft and loan fraud, authorities said.
Evans said each fraudulently obtained loan was between $19,000 and $20,000, with the fraud costing taxpayers more than $500,000.
Investigators discovered that some of the defendants were inmates at the Will County Jail in Joliet, a suburb of Chicago, when they applied for and received loans through the pandemic program, later using the money to get out of jail in their felony cases.
Evans said some of the defendants were in custody and used jail phones “to complete the fraudulent PPP loan process.”
“Some of the targets got bail in their felony cases days after receiving their fraudulent PPP loan,” he said at a news conference Wednesday.
Joliet Police Detective James Kilgore said investigators obtained bank records and “it appeared that some of these people did, in fact, use this money to get bail in a felony case.”
The Associated Press left a message Thursday with Joliet police seeking additional information about the allegations.
The US Department of Homeland Security, the US Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General and the Will County State’s Attorney’s office were also involved in the investigation.
Emergency loans made to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic were added last year to a list of government programs considered high risk of waste, fraud or mismanagement.
In August, the US Secret Service said it had recovered $286 million in fraudulently obtained pandemic loans and was returning the money to the Small Business Administration.
“This is like the pandemic. It’s absolutely everywhere as well,” Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Sean Fitzgerald said at Wednesday’s news conference in Joliet.