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Bank employees and tax preparers fraudulently applied for $3M+ in pandemic relief loans through fake documents.
As the first case reported against bank employees, US prosecutors have charged various individuals for exploiting multi-billion dollar COVID relief programs aimed at helping small businesses survive the pandemic.
According to the prosecutors, Anuli Okeke, a former branch manager at Popular Bank in New York, conspired with other bank employees and tax preparers to fraudulently apply for $3M+ in pandemic relief loans administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
A spokesperson for Popular Bank, Alex Moncion, stated on Monday that the bank had taken necessary measures following the detection of fraud and alerted law enforcement and bank regulators to terminate the employees involved.
“This behaviour is contrary to our commitment to integrity and to our values and business practices, which are guided by the highest ethical principles,” said Moncion.
The prosecutors further explained that Okeke conspired with others to recruit applicants for loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and created false documents to avail monetary benefits. At least two other individuals have pleaded guilty in connection with this scheme.
The loan program, which provided forgivable and low-interest loans to small businesses, was part of Congress’ multi-trillion-dollar response to the pandemic. However, the relief efforts have been plagued by “unprecedented levels of fraud,” the U.S. Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery said in June.
Since the lockdown, a 40% rise has been recorded in scams and fraudulent cases. Among the prevalent COVID-19 related frauds are fake vaccine emails for phishing attacks, vacation and travel scams, peer-to-peer mobile payment scams, data breaches in healthcare, fake investment scams, and employment benefits scams.
While more than 500 individuals in the US have been charged with pandemic-related fraud, the current case appears to be the first involving a fraudulent scheme within a bank.
Suggested Read: Michigan Man Convicted for COVID-19 Relief Fraud