(VitalNews.org) – An investigation is underway into the alleged misappropriation of $4.5 million by Illinois state employees. The Illinois Office of Executive Inspector General has already identified 177 public workers to be questioned by law enforcement agencies after completing just 204 of its 438 investigations. Each of the 177 people referred to the authorities has been referred due to investigators having reasonable cause to believe that they obtained Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans based on falsified information.
The Paycheck Protection Program was part of the federal government’s relief efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw states enforcing varying levels of restrictions on the public’s movements and ability to conduct business. One attempt to soften the blow faced by business owners was the PPP, which saw business owners able to apply for loans from the government in order to cover costs such as payroll. The majority of the loans were later forgiven as long as they had been used for their intended purpose.
Many of these loans were substantial, with the Illinois investigation primarily focusing on loans of $20,000 or more, meaning that the business would generally be expected to have a gross income of $100,000 for the prior year. It would appear, however, that many applicants claimed such loans fraudulently in states across the US.
The Small Business Administration’s PPP loans are now estimated to have been subject to an estimated $200 billion in fraudulent claims nationwide. Illinois’ Executive Inspector General, Susan Haling, told the press that although she was not surprised by the fraud, she was “disappointed”. She added that the program was designed to help those who were struggling and could not pay their bills due to the COVID-19 response, yet so many individuals who had secure, full-time employment appear to have abused it for their own gain.
Out of the 177 employees so far reported to law enforcement in Illinois, 132 of them worked in the Department of Human Services. Several of these employees have already faced some consequences for their alleged actions, with at least 20 fired from their jobs so far, although Haling said that she did not know the total number who had lost their jobs in the scandal.
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