Joliet police and federal authorities have arrested 15 people for filing fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan applications while in custody in Will County jail on felony gun or drug charges.
Law enforcement officials said some people used jail phones to complete the PPP loan process; some spent the PPP money to bond out of jail.
About two dozen individuals have been indicted in the investigation, dubbed “Operation Triple P,” authorities said at a news conference Wednesday. Fifteen had been arrested as of Wednesday and another 10 had warrants out for their arrest, according to Joliet police.
Most of the fraudulent loans were for about $19,000 to $20,000, law enforcement said.
Authorities said many of the suspects were already incarcerated for felony offenses when they filed for the fraudulent loan.
“During the course of this investigation, it was discovered that some of the targets being investigated were in custody and used jail phones to complete the fraudulent PPP loan process,” said Joliet police Chief William Evans.
The majority of suspects had open felony cases, which would disqualify an applicant from receiving a PPP loan, police said. Bank records also indicated some of the suspects used the illegal loans to bond out of custody, law enforcement agents said.
Many of the individuals targeted during the investigation listed the fake business as a sole proprietorship, barber shop or hair salon.
“The majority of them also used their home address, so we did several periodic spot-checks on their residence,” said Joliet police Detective James Kilgore. “It just looked like a residence, there was no actual business there.”
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Authorities also checked for city business licenses under the name of the individual targeted or anyone living in the residence, which came back negative, Kilgore said.
“They were giving their actual name and actual residence, where they stay at,” he added. “Some were even apartment buildings.”
The federal Paycheck Protection Program was designed to provide relief to businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. But fraud has been widespread, with investigations occurring “in just about every major U.S. city,” said R. Sean Fitzgerald, acting special agent in charge of the Chicago office of Homeland Security Investigations.
“These PPP loans, if they’re obtained fraudulently, they’re taking that money out of our businesses in our local area that actually need them,” Fitzgerald said.
Authorities said the investigation is ongoing.
“Safeguarding the integrity of public benefit programs is an important role of law enforcement and prosecutors,” Fitzgerald added. “Without holding offenders accountable, history has proven that bad actors will shamelessly defraud the government and taxpayers in the name of greed, with no regard for those who truly need the program’s benefits.”