Brooklyn’s Woo gang has been accused of defrauding the government’s COVID-19 relief programs.
A total of 11 members were charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. Eight of them were arrested in New York City on Thursday (February 17).
The defendants include Romean Brown, Tyrek Clarke, Kennith Desir, Stephan Dorminvil, Kai Heyward, Keith James, Oneal Marks, Jahriah Olivierre, Christopher Jean Pierre, Roleeke Smith and Christopher Topey. Brown and Heyward were arrested outside of New York while Olivierre is still at large.
Woo gang members allegedly used the information of more than 800 victims to illegally obtain $4.3 million in unemployment benefits. The Department of Justice says the scam took place between March 2020 and October 2021.
The defendants are accused of submitting roughly 1,000 claims to the New York State Department of Labor in an attempt to receive approximately $20 million in unemployment insurance. These benefits were funded by COVID-19 pandemic assistance programs.
According to the DOJ, multiple Woo gang members were seen flashing money on social media. Some of them also appeared in a music video for a song called “Trappin,” which featured the lyrics “unemployment got us working a lot” in reference to their fraud.
“As alleged, the defendants conspired to steal millions of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment assistance and then brazenly flaunted the proceeds of their crimes on social media,” United States Attorney Breon Peace said in a press release. “These government programs are designed to provide financial assistance to those who are most in need during an unprecedented pandemic.”
Peace added, “This Office and its law enforcement partners will vigorously prosecute gang members and anyone else who exploits the pandemic and steals from taxpayer-funded programs.”