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Members of Shreveport street gang charged with getting money from pandemic-relief program


By Web staff

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    SHREVEPORT, Louisiana (KTBS) — Members of a violent Shreveport street gang who pretended to be small-business owners received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government’s pandemic-relief programs, a federal grand jury alleges in a fraud indictment naming 24 people.

Profiteering was done in a coordinated effort of claiming fictitious businesses, non-existent employees, double-dipping to try to get more than one loan, and submitting fabricated bank and tax documents, KTBS News has learned. Money was instead spent on themselves, investigators believe.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Shreveport has scheduled a news conference on Tuesday morning to discuss the indictment. Federal prosecutors would not discuss specifics ahead of time because the indictment has been sealed while authorities round up the suspects.

The defendants named in the case were members or associates of Shreveport’s Step or Die gang, KTBS News has learned.

Many are either convicted or are facing trial for murder, attempted murder and drug- and weapons crimes in federal and state jurisdictions. The fraud case is another way of putting law-enforcement pressure on the gang.

Local authorities who have investigated and prosecuted members of the gang describe it as an undisciplined group of young men that lacks the hierarchy or seniority of traditional gangs. Members have committed an array of shootings and drug- and weapons crimes in recent years, they said.

Lesser-involved people who have been under investigation were associates of those who concocted the scheme, and they received kickbacks in return for being listed as employees in the pandemic loan applications, authorities believe.

The alleged fraud targeted two of the government’s most generous taxpayer-funded stimulus initiatives: the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, which were intended to help cash-strapped businesses stay afloat during the economic crisis brought on by the COVID pandemic.

The taxpayer-backed loan programs were a magnet for fraud as the government rushed to send trillions of dollars in stimulus money to people and businesses with little vetting.

Federal law-enforcement officials said efforts to identify fraudulent loan recipients began soon after stimulus money began going out.

Authorities believe more than two dozen fraudulent loans totaling approximately $600,000 were obtained by Step or Die gang members and efforts were made to obtain others totaling more than $2 million, KTBS News has learned.

One of those who has been under investigation for suspected PPP fraud is serving time on a federal firearms conviction. He also faces state charges alleging he shot and wounded a man in Shreveport, bonded out of jail and then committing a homicide. He has pleaded not guilty to the state charges.

U.S. Attorney Brandon Brown, who will hold the news conference, previously said his office currently has 20 to 25 ongoing cases regarding COVID-relief fraud. There have been convictions in others.

“We have found over the last couple of years, since people got this COVID-relief money, some organizations are using that money for funding drug deals, buying firearms or spending the money haphazardly – nothing to do with business,” Brown said.

“We are being aggressive in our approach with these cases,” Brown said. “People have taken advantage of America at her most vulnerable state: the COVID pandemic.”

A Monroe businessman this past spring was sentenced to 10 years in prison for fraudulently obtaining $1.1 million in COVID-relief money by falsifying how many employees he had. A Bienville Parish woman is under indictment on charges she improperly received $1.1 million in relief money then spent it on gambling and her house.

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