(Reuters) – US prosecutors have brought what is believed to be the first case against bank employees who are alleged to have used multi-billion dollar programs aimed at helping small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an unsealed case in Brooklyn federal court on Friday, prosecutors say Anuli Okeke, a former branch manager at Popular Bank in New York, conspired with other bank employees and taxpayers to fraudulently apply for more than $ 3 million in pandemic loans monitored by US Small Business Administration.
Alex Moncion, a spokesman for Popular Bank, who was not named in the complaint, said on Monday that the bank had alerted law enforcement and banking authorities about the behavior and fired the employees involved.
"This behavior is contrary to our commitment to integrity and our values and business practices, which are governed by the highest ethical principles," said Moncion.
Loan programs, such as low-interest, low-interest lenders, were part of Congress' multibillion-dollar response to the pandemic.
The relief effort has been plagued by "unprecedented fraud," the U.S. Special Inspector for Pandemic Recovery said in June.
More than 500 people have been charged with pandemic-related fraud, but the case appears to be the first to involve an alleged system within a bank.
While prosecutors have investigated lenders for possible misconduct, no financial institutions have been charged with crimes.