Joliet Police and federal officials have arrested 15 people for submitting fraudulent Payday Protection Program loans while in Will County Custody on suspicion of possession of weapons or dr*gs.

Law enforcement officials said some people were using prison phones to complete the PPP loan process; some spent PPP money to get out of jail.

About two dozen people have been charged in an investigation, dubbed “Operation Triple P,” authorities said at a press conference on Wednesday. Fifteen have been arrested since Wednesday, and another 10 had an arrest warrant, according to police in Joliet.

Most of the fraudulent loans ranged from $ 19,000 to $ 20,000, law enforcement agencies said.

Authorities said many suspects had already been jailed for crimes when they filed for the unfair loan.

“During this investigation, it was discovered that some of the targets under investigation were in custody and were using prison phones to end the fraudulent PPP loan process,” said Joliet Police Chief William Evans.

Most suspects had open criminal cases that would have excluded the applicant from receiving a PPP loan, police said. Bank records also indicate that some suspects have used illegal loans to secure the deposit, law enforcement officials said.

Many of the people under investigation listed the fake business as a sole proprietorship, hairdresser or hair salon.

“Most of them also used their home address, so we did some periodic random checks of their place of residence,” said Police Detective Joliet James Kilgore. “It was just like a residence, there was no business there.”

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Kilgore said authorities also checked the city’s business licenses under the name of the person concerned or the person living in the mansion, which turned out to be negative.

“They gave their real name and the place of residence where they are,” he added. “Some were even apartment buildings.”

The Federal Wage Protection Program is designed to provide relief to companies struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. But fraud is widespread, with investigations taking place “in almost every major city in the US,” said R. Sean Fitzgerald, acting special agent in charge of the Chicago Bureau of Internal Security Investigation.

“These PPP loans, if obtained unfairly, take that money from our local businesses that actually need it,” said Fitzgerald.

Authorities said the investigation was ongoing.

“Securing the integrity of public benefit programs is an important role for law enforcement and prosecutors,” added Fitzgerald. “Without bringing the perpetrators to justice, history has proved that bad actors will shamelessly defraud the government and taxpayers in the name of greed, regardless of those who really need the benefits of the program.”

eleventis@chicagotribune.com

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