PPP fraud suspected of 5 more Cook County workers, including woman who used money to pay for daughter’s wedding, report says

Interim Cook County Inspector General Steven Cyranoski says, over the past year, 25 county workers were found to have ripped off the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

SHARE PPP fraud suspected of 5 more Cook County workers, including woman who used money to pay for daughter’s wedding, report says
The Daley Center, where some Cook County government agencies are housed.

The Daley Center, where some Cook County government agencies are housed.

Sun-Times file

Five Cook County employees defrauded the federal COVID-19 relief program of more than $240,000, falsely claiming they owned companies that struggled during the pandemic, the county inspector general’s office said in a report Friday.

Over the past year, 20 other county workers also were suspected of defrauding the federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to interim Inspector General Steven Cyranoski. They include three high-ranking county officials, including one in the county’s human resources office, a payroll supervisor in the comptroller’s office and a director in the health department, according to Cyranoski.

In five quarterly reports since July 2022, Cyranoski said his investigators found county workers were suspected of stealing more than $700,000 in PPP money.

He recommended that each be fired. All have been fired or resigned or are in the process of being terminated, Cyranoski said. None was identified in his reports by name.

Another county employee was deemed to be a victim of fraud by someone who used her identity to obtain a PPP loan.

Cyranoski’s investigation has found employees suspected of PPP fraud in the county clerk’s office, the health department, facilities management, the public defender’s office, the assessor’s office, the bureau of technology, the secretary to the board of county commissioners, the board of review and the revenue department.

An employee of the county clerk fraudulently obtained nearly $40,000 in PPP loans, which she spent on her daughter’s wedding and back taxes, according to Cyranoski’s latest quarterly report, out Friday.

Cyranoski said a facilities management employee got two PPP loans totaling $41,666 by falsely claiming she ran a digital marketing company that took in $117,250 in revenue in 2019 before the pandemic began the next year. Investigators determined the marketing company was phony. The woman did sell clothing, the report said, but took in only $1,000 over three years and failed to report her outside employment to the county, as required.

The woman used some of the PPP money to buy a new house and buy Illinois lottery tickets, Cyranoski said.

His latest quarterly report also said a county health department employee who was a “director of a department that oversees sensitive patient information” was suspected of stealing about $40,000 from the COVID-relief loan program.

Some county agencies, including the clerk of court’s office, have conducted their own investigations and have identified employees suspected of fraud not listed in the inspector general’s reports. In April, a spokesman for Cook County Clerk of Court Iris Martinez said 48 of her employees were fired or had resigned after they were found to have obtained PPP loans fraudulently.

Under PPP, run by the federal Small Business Administration, most loans have been forgiven, meaning they don’t need to be paid back.

Cyranoski said he has referred each case of suspected PPP fraud by county employees to prosecutors to investigate whether criminal charges should be filed. In an interview, though, he said he is unaware of anyone being charged as a result.

Cyranoski’s office has an agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to investigate potential wrongdoing in that agency, too. A separate report from his office Friday said four water district employees, including a police officer, are suspected of PPP fraud. Cyranoski recommended that the officer and two other employees be fired. The other employee has resigned.

Deborah Witzburg, City Hall’s inspector general, also has been investigating possible PPP fraud by employees in the Chicago police and fire departments. No findings have been made public by her office.

Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson

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