Some of the suspects accused of stealing money from a federal program meant to assist struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic allegedly used it to bond themselves out of jail in unrelated felony cases, police said.
That was one of the key revelations in a news conference Wednesday at the Joliet Police Department regarding an ongoing investigation into Paycheck Protection Program loan fraud.
As of Wednesday, 15 people, including Jesse Tucker, 26, of Joliet have been arrested on PPP loan fraud charges. There are warrants out for the arrest of 10 more people.
“We did get bank records back [where it] appeared that some of these individuals did, in fact, use this money to bond out on a felony case,” Joliet Police Detective James Kilgore said.
Kilgore is one of the many investigators pursuing suspects accused of creating phony businesses to obtain PPP loans, many of which were worth between $19,000 to $20,000.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General Office and Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow’s office also have worked on the investigation that has been labeled Operation Triple P.
R. Sean Fitzgerald, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security in Chicago, compared the scale of the fraud to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s happening everywhere as well,” Fitzgerald said.
The suspects who have been arrested have taken money out of businesses in local communities that have needed them, Fitzgerald said.
“So if they’re taking that pot, then our local business community can’t go and get 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 for several months” to identify the suspects.
“During the course of this investigation, it was discovered that some of the targets being investigated today were in custody and using jail phones to complete the fraudulent PPP loan process,” Evans said.
The investigators researched business applications, business licenses and other research that led them to determine the suspects’ businesses were not real, Evans said.
Kilgore said part of a prerequisite of applying for a PPP loan is not having an open felony indictment, which is how the investigators were able to come up with their list of candidates.
“That’s how we started this because we knew the application would be fraudulent right when they selected that they had no open felony indictment,” Kilgore said.
Adrian Bailey, 21, of Joliet was among those arrested on PPP loan fraud charges.
The Small Business Administration Inspector General’s Office issued a May 26 report that outlined flaws in the agency’s handling of the PPP loan program.
Among those flaws were that the SBA did not have an organizational structure with clearly defined roles, responsibilities and processes to manage and handle 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,” Kilgore said. “These were just the first 25 targets.”