Five more cases of Cook County workers allegedly defrauding the federal Paycheck Protection Program appeared last week, and one of the accused used a portion of her score to purchase Illinois Lottery tickets.
Cases of suspected fraud within Cook County, which contains the city of Chicago, have exploded over the past year. According to interim Inspector General Steven Cyranoski, there are 20 more cases of alleged fraud targeting county employees.
The latest batch of alleged fraudsters, that so far have remained anonymous, reportedly cheated the federal COVID-19 relief program out of more than $240,000. To do so, they allegedly falsely claimed to own companies that struggled through the pandemic.
Since July 2022, Cyranoski’s investigators have released five quarterly reports. Altogether, the findings suggest that county workers stole more than $700,000 in PPP money.
In response, he recommended that each employee face prompt termination for their improprieties. While the names of the workers remain anonymous, all have either resigned, been let go, or are currently in the process.
Many suspects worked in high-ranking Cook County positions
Cyranoski’s investigation found that of the more than two dozen employees suspected of PPP fraud, several hold high-level responsibilities, including within the:
- Human resources office
- Comptroller’s office
- Health department
- County clerk’s office
- Facilities management
- Public defender’s office
- Assessor’s office
- Bureau of technology
- Secretary to the board of county commissioners
- Board of review
- Revenue department
A worker from the county of the clerk fraudulently collected nearly $40,000 in PPP loans. She allegedly spent the illicit cash on her daughter’s wedding and back taxes, per Cyranoski’s latest quarterly report, released last Friday.
Going further, the report also found acts of fraud from a top-ranking figure in the county health department. The employee, who is a “director of a department that oversees sensitive patient information,” is suspected of lifting around $40,000.
As a result of the widespread thievery, some of the affected organizations are running their own internal investigations.
48 employees out at Cook County after PPP fraud
In April, Iris Martinez, a spokesperson for Cook County Clerk of Court, said 48 of her employees were fired or had resigned after deceptively obtaining PPP loans.
More investigations, including within the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, and Chicago Police and fire departments are underway. Deborah Witzburg, City Hall’s inspector general, who is overseeing the cases within the Chicago PD and FD, has not made any findings public.
Illinois Lottery also in the news with $1 billion Powerball draw looming
In his report, Cyranoski said that a facilities management employee was the one responsible for spending her share of the tainted cash on Illinois Lottery tickets. Now her hopes of landing a big prize have landed her in a jackpot of her own.
The lottery-ticket-buying suspect received two PPP loans totaling $41,666 by falsely claiming she operated a digital marketing firm that generated more than $115,000 in revenue in 2019 before the pandemic hit the following year. According to the report, she did sell clothing, but only brought in $1,000 over a three-year period and never reported her outside employment to the county.
The specifics of her tickets remain unknown.
The Illinois Lottery is also in the news this week for more positive reasons.
After Monday night’s fruitless draw, the Powerball jackpot now sits at an estimated $1 billion. The next draw, which takes place on Wednesday evening, will go down as the sixth largest in US history and the third largest for Powerball.
It has been 38 consecutive drawings without a winner and the pot will keep growing until someone brings it home. At $1 billion, the latest Powerball is still a long way from breaking the record $2.04 billion jackpot from last November.