More than 20 people have been charged in Illinois with fraudulently obtaining pandemic relief money. Authorities allege that some of the defendants were behind bars and used the proceeds to pay bail and get out of jail.
Joliet Police Chief William Evans said Wednesday that 25 people applied for the financial assistance even though they had no real businesses.
Fifteen of the defendants were arrested Wednesday and arrest warrants are 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. The plot cost taxpayers more than $500,000.
Investigators discovered that some of the defendants were inmates at Chicago’s Will County Jail when they applied for and received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, then used the money to get out of jail.
Evans said some of the defendants were in custody and used jail phones “to complete the fraudulent loan process.”
The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General and the Will County District 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 Secret Service reported that it had recovered $286 million in fraudulently obtained pandemic loans and was returning the money to the Small Business Administration.