JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — More than two dozen people have been charged in Illinois with fraudulently receiving pandemic relief money, with authorities saying some were behind bars when they used their bail money to post bail and get free. from prison.

Joliet Police Chief William Evans said Wednesday that 25 people participated in an alleged fraud scheme to collect Paycheck Protection Program checks but were not involved in any real business.

Fifteen defendants had been arrested by Wednesday, and arrest warrants were pending for 10 more. They all face charges including fraud, theft and loan fraud, officials said.

Evans said each loan obtained through the fraud was between $19,000 and $20,000, and the fraud cost taxpayers more than $500,000.

Investigators found that some of the defendants were inmates at the Will County Jail in Joliet, a suburb of Chicago, when they applied for and received loans under the pandemic program and then used the money to get out of jail on their felony cases.

Evans said some of the defendants were in custody and used prison phones “to complete the fraudulent PPP loan process.”

“Some of the facilities have joined their hard cases a few days after receiving the fraudulent PPP loan,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Joliet Police Detective James Kilgore said investigators obtained the bank records and “it appeared that some of these individuals were actually using this money to hedge against a felony.”

The Associated Press left a message with Joliet police Thursday asking for more information about the allegations.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General and the Will County District Attorney’s Office were also involved in the investigation.

Emergency loans issued to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic were added to the list of state programs last year is considered a high risk of embezzlement, fraud or mismanagement.

In August This was reported by the US Secret Service he returned $286 million in fraudulent pandemic loans and returned money to the Small Business Administration.

“It’s like a pandemic. It’s also absolutely everywhere,” Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Sean Fitzgerald said at a news conference in Joliet on Wednesday.

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