Police: Inmates released from Illinois jail with pandemic loans

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — More than two dozen people have been charged in Illinois with fraudulently taking pandemic relief money, with authorities saying some of them are behind bars when they used their relief money to post of bond and release themselves from jail.

Joliet Police Chief William Evans said Wednesday that 25 people were part of an alleged fraud scheme to obtain Paycheck Protection Program checks while not operating actual businesses.

Fifteen of the defendants were arrested on Wednesday and arrest warrants are pending for 10 other people. They all face charges including wire fraud, theft and loan fraud, officials said.

Evans said each fraudulently obtained loan was between $19,000 and $20,000, with the fraud costing 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, and then used the money to bond out of jail on their felony charges.

Evans said some of the defendants were in custody and used jail phones “to complete the fraudulent PPP loan process.”

“Some of the targets bonded out on their felony charges days after receiving their fraudulent PPP loans,” he said Wednesday at a news conference.

Joliet Police Detective James Kilgore said investigators obtained bank records and it “appears that some of these individuals have, in fact, used this money to bond with a felony charges.”

A message was left Thursday with Joliet police by The Associated Press seeking more information on the allegations.

The US Department of Homeland Security, the US 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 deemed at 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.

“It’s like a pandemic. It’s absolutely everywhere,” Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Sean Fitzgerald said at a news conference Wednesday in Joliet.

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