Eleven gang members from Brooklyn were busted scamming the Covid-19 unemployment program to the tune of more than $4 million using stolen identities, according to the Daily News, citing police and the federal officials.
Cops caught wind of the fraud when members of the NYPD’s intelligence bureau noticed that members of the Canarsie-based Woo gang were making trips to California, renting houses, buying expensive cars and posing on social media with stacks of cash at the beginning of the pandemic.
That led to a federal probe with the Department of Labor Inspector General’s office – and on Thursday, the arrest of 11 suspects in a scheme to steal nearly $20 million in unemployment funds.
They got away with more than $4.3 million before authorities cut off the money flow and arrested them, police allege. -Daily News
The group of thieves even bragged about the scheme in a YouTube rap video, with the lyrics "Unemployment got us workin' a lot."
"The result of this was like gang criminal magic. It was a never ending spigot of money, because when you tapped out the funds from one identity, you simply moved on to another, and to another, and to another," according to NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public Information John Miller. "Imagine a bottomless ATM that was free, and just spit out cash."
The scammers took advantage of a chaotic flood of applications into the state's unemployment system at the beginning of the pandemic. As the Daily News notes, the system helped people in need apply quickly - but also offered an opportunity for the gang members to get rich quickly as well, according to Miller.
One of the suspects, Romean Brown, 23, was pulled over for blowing a stop sign in Brooklyn in January 2021, and had three KeyBank debit cards on him, according to a federal complaint.
He posted a message months earlier on Facebook, asking if he should open a new chat on Telegram so he could get even more IDs to use. “S--- is too easy,” he said, according to the compliant. -Daily News
"Individual gang members were purchasing hundreds of names from the dark web, the deep web and criminal sources that included social security numbers," Miller added.
They were also able to obtain driver's licenses for around $150 each, according to federal court documents. They would then cycle between dozens of KeyBank cards at a time - extracting as much cash from ATMs as possible before moving on to a new identity.
"A lot of this money was pulled out in cash almost immediately," said NYPD criminal intelligence division inspector, William Viscardi, who added that the funds were either spent as cash, or quickly transferred to Venmo or similar apps, making it impossible to recover.
Authorities say the fraudsters were showing off Ferraris and other luxury cars, as well as houses with palm trees and private jet flights.
As the Daily News notes, the fraud suspects — Brown, Tyrek Clarke, 21, Kennith Desir, 20, Stephan Dorminvil, 21, Kai Heyward, 22, Keith James, 20, Oneal Marks, 20, Jahriah Olivierre, 22, Christopher Jean Pierre, 21, Roleeke Smith, 20, and Christopher Topey, 21 ― all face charges in Brooklyn federal court.