During the devastating era of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments worldwide scrambled to support citizens facing job loss, business closures, and a crippling economic downturn. Unfortunately, an analysis of recent events indicates that the hasty rollout of these aid programs left them ripe for exploitation by criminal elements, including notorious street gangs.
In a shocking turn of events, it’s been revealed that gangs such as the Insane Crip Gang (ICG), based on Long Island, New York, devised intricate schemes to siphon millions of dollars from these relief programs. The gang crafted a comprehensive fraud manual that guided members in creating fictitious businesses, submitting loan applications to the Small Business Administration (SBA), and skirting the software intended to eliminate fraud.
“They used this money to fund the gang, buy guns, and live a lavish lifestyle,” said Carolyn Pokorny, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Gangs used pandemic aid to rake in money for crimes; weak screening opened big opportunity https://t.co/Tgy5JtdY2A
— Jeffrey A. Setaro (@jasetaro) August 7, 2023
The misuse of the system did not stop with the ICG. Street gangs nationwide, including the Brooklyn-based Woo gang and the Step and Die gang in Shreveport, Louisiana, also tapped into these government funds. Their modus operandi included identity theft, bogus unemployment claims, and fraudulent loan applications.
A brazen theft spree unfolded as these gangs capitalized on the government’s rush to disburse trillions in relief aid with minimal oversight or applicant restrictions. An Associated Press analysis estimated that fraudsters potentially pocketed over $280 billion in COVID-19 relief funding, a figure set to climb as investigators uncover further nefarious schemes.
These revelations make it clear that our government needed to be more prepared to safeguard these critical funds. In a rush to mitigate the economic catastrophe, we inadvertently opened the floodgates for fraudsters, enabling them to misuse billions intended for hard-working Americans.
The failure of the government to ensure adequate security measures has been widely criticized.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) found the situation particularly appalling, stating, “The agency cut billions of dollars of checks to almost anyone who asked, in any amount requested, without even doing simple background checks or verifying the accuracy of applications.”
As we navigate the repercussions of this fraudulent frenzy, it’s vital to reevaluate our systems and ensure that future aid is protected from similar exploitation. It’s an imperative lesson to learn, lest our attempts to alleviate national suffering become an unintentional boon to criminal enterprises.
There is an urgent need for the government to step up, tighten screening measures, and implement stringent checks to prevent the recurrence of such an astronomical scam. As American taxpayers, we must hold our officials accountable, demanding transparency and improved security in aid allocation, ensuring that future relief efforts do not devolve into an illicit payday for criminal organizations. The failure to do so would betray the citizens’ trust these programs were intended to support.