More than two dozen people took a cue from the game of Monopoly and attempted to get out of jail free . . . for them. The criminals have been charged with fraudulently obtaining pandemic relief money while behind bars—and using it to free themselves from jail.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “provides small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.” It’s likely no one dreamed they would need to say that people could not use the money to post bail for themselves.
Yet that’s exactly what happened.
Joliet (Illinois) Police Chief William Evans says that 25 people were part of an alleged fraud scheme to get PPP checks while not operating actual businesses.
Last week, 15 of the defendants had been arrested. Arrest warrants were pending for 10 others. All face charges including wire fraud, theft, and loan fraud, officials say.
Evans says each illegally obtained loan was for between $19,000 and $20,000. The total amount of fraud cost taxpayers upwards of $500,000.
Investigators found that some of the defendants were inmates at the Will County Jail in Joliet, a Chicago suburb, when they applied for and received loans through the pandemic program. They then used the money to bond out of jail on their felony (a more serious crime often involving violence) cases.
Evans says some of the defendants were in custody and even used jail phones “to complete the fraudulent PPP loan process.”
“Some of the targets bonded out on their felony cases days after receiving their fraudulent PPP loan,” he said at a news conference last week.
Joliet Police Detective James Kilgore says investigators obtained bank records, and it “appeared that some of these individuals did, in fact, use this money to bond out on a felony case.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General Office, and the Will County State’s Attorney’s office also took part in the investigation.
Emergency loans made to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic were added last year to a list of government programs considered at high risk of waste, fraud, or mismanagement.
In August, the U.S. Secret Service recovered $286 million in fraudulently obtained pandemic loans and was returning the money to the Small Business Administration.
(U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Special Agent in Charge Sean Fitzgerald speaks at a press conference regarding a joint operation that resulted in the arrests and indictments of 25 defendants in Joliet, Illinois. Gary Middendorf/The Herald-News via AP)