Some of the suspects who stole money from a federal program meant to help struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic used it to get themselves out of jail in unrelated felony cases, police say.
It was one of the key revelations that emerged at a press conference Wednesday at the Joliet Police Department regarding an ongoing investigation into Paycheck Protection Program loan fraud.
On Wednesday, 15 people were arrested, including Jesse Tucker, 26, of Joliet, for PPP loan fraud. Ten other people have arrest warrants against them.
“We recovered bank statements which appeared to indicate that some of these people had in fact used this money to tie themselves to a felony case,” said Joliet Police Detective James Kilgore.
Kilgore is one of several investigators pursuing suspects accused of setting up fake businesses to obtain PPP loans, many of which were worth between $19,000 and $20,000.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, and the office of Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow also worked on the investigation, which has been called a Triple P operation.
The scale of the fraud was compared to the COVID-19 pandemic itself by R. Sean Fitzgerald, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security in Chicago.
“It’s like the pandemic. It’s also happening everywhere,” Fitzgerald said.
The suspects who were arrested withdrew money from businesses in local communities that needed it, Fitzgerald said.
“So if they take that pot, then our local business community can’t go after that money,” Fitzgerald said.
Joliet Police Chief William Evans said Kilgore, Joliet Police Detective Jeff German, and other officers and detectives in his department “worked countless hours over several months” to identify the suspects.
“During this investigation, it was discovered that some of the targets being investigated today were in custody and using jail phones to carry out the fraudulent PPP loan process,” Evans said. .
Investigators searched for business applications, business licenses and other research that led them to determine the suspects’ businesses were not real, Evans said.
Kilgore said part of the prerequisites for applying for a PPP loan is not having an open felony indictment, which is how investigators were able to come up with their list of candidates.
“That’s how we started because we knew the app would be fraudulent as soon as they chose they didn’t have an open felony indictment,” Kilgore said.
Two brothers in Joliet — Adrian Bailey, 21, and Donta Bailey, 19 — are among those arrested for PPP loan fraud.
Prosecutors have dropped charges against Donta Bailey, but Kilgore said he understands they are pursuing fraud charges against him in juvenile court.
The Office of the Inspector General of Small Business Administration released a report May 26 that outlined flaws in the agency’s handling of the PPP loan program.
Among those flaws was that the SBA lacked an organizational structure with clearly defined roles, responsibilities and processes to manage and manage potentially fraudulent PPP loans, according to the report.
Arrest warrants remain outstanding for Christian Ambriz, 21, Sonjre Childs, 29, Tommie Crockwell, 31, Raven Johnson, 31, Matthew Millirons, 24, Jeremy Moffett, 37, Darron Prince, 35 , Maurice Robinson, 45, Eric Tyler, 35, and Donte Wash, 21.
The investigation is far from over.
“It’s still ongoing. Those were just the first 25 targets,” Kilgore said.