Dozens of Cook County employees resign or are fired in clerk of court, county inspector general’s PPP fraud probe

Forty-eight court clerk’s office employees “no longer work” there after investigators found they defrauded the federal COVID relief Paycheck Protection Program. Six employees of other county agencies also have been found to have defrauded federal relief programs.

SHARE Dozens of Cook County employees resign or are fired in clerk of court, county inspector general’s PPP fraud probe
The Daley Center, where some Cook County government agencies are housed.

The Daley Center, where the clerk of court’s office and other Cook County government agencies are housed.

Sun-Times file

Dozens of Cook County employees have resigned or been fired in ongoing investigations of fraud in COVID-19 relief programs.

Forty-eight employees of Cook County Clerk of Court Iris Martinez “no longer work” for the office after they were found to have defrauded the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which was enacted to provide forgivable loans to help struggling businesses stay in business in 2020 and 2021 during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nationally, most of the loans in the federal Small Business Administration’s fraud-plagued program were forgiven, meaning the businesses’ owners didn’t have to pay back any of the PPP money they got.

Martinez said Friday that she understands the need for public trust in her office and that “I am personally offended that individuals in my office that took advantage of the PPP loan program. I cannot stand by any employee who provided false or altered information to these banking institutions for their own personal gain at the expense of taxpayers. These individuals undermined a government program designed to save American businesses.”

The written statement from Martinez’s office didn’t say how many of the employees who’ve left her office were fired or how many resigned.

Also Friday, interim Cook County Inspector General Steven Cyranoski released a quarterly report in which he said he found six employees of other county agencies had defrauded federal relief programs, too.

One employee of the Cook County Board of Review and one in Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s office have been fired this year, the report said. Three county employees — in facilities management, the public defender’s office and the Cook County Board’s secretary to the board office — have resigned this year. Disciplinary action is pending in a sixth case, involving a county comptroller’s office employee, the report said.

The public defender’s employee, according to the inspector general’s report, received a PPP loan for $20,000 and a federal COVID-19 Economic Impact Disaster Loan for $10,000. The employee, who said she owned a real estate business, has resigned. She was found to have applied for one of her loans on county time and admitted she spent the money on a vehicle and rent and to pay credit-card bills, the report said.

The board of review employee had said she operated a catering business that had $176,000 in revenue in 2019, the year before she applied for her $20,832 PPP loan. But she didn’t disclose that revenue when she filed for federal bankruptcy protection in 2019, and she gave contradictory information on her applications, according to the report.

Other county agencies also have been investigating accusations of PPP fraud. Sources told the Chicago Sun-Times that at least three supervisors in the Cook County chief judge’s office recently have been forced out after fraud accusations against them were “sustained” by an investigation.

A spokeswoman for Chief County Judge Timothy Evans didn’t respond to a call seeking comment.

Asked whether any Cook County sheriff’s employees have been found to have engaged in PPP fraud, a spokesman for Sheriff Tom Dart said in a written statement, “The sheriff’s office cannot comment on the status or existence of any investigations that may be ongoing. When appropriate, the sheriff’s office will work with other entities on cases.”

Last year, the sheriff’s office reported having found evidence of more than a dozen inmates engaging in PPP fraud and forwarded those accusations to the FBI.

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