An evidence photo provided by the Justice Department allegedly shows Woo gang member Romean Brown posing with a pile of cash stolen from COVID-19 unemployment insurance funds. Photo courtesy Justice Department
Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Federal authorities have charged 11 members of a New York City gang for a scheme to steal $4.3 million in unemployment insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A federal probe involving the Justice Department and U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General led to the arrest of eight members of the Brooklyn-based Woo gang in New York City on Thursday, officials said in a statement.
One of the suspects was arrested in Delaware while another was arrested in California, and the last remains at large, officials said.
Investigators with the NYPD's Intelligence Bureau's bureau tracking the gang noticed last year that they were posing with large amounts of cash in photos posted to social media, eating at high-end restaurants, buying luxury cars and renting mansions in Beverly Hills, Calif.
A criminal complaint unsealed Thursday shows that the suspects allegedly used stolen and false identities to set up fake accounts with the New York State Department of Labor website to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds provided by the CARES Act.
Before receiving the $4.3 million, members of the gang had allegedly attempted to steal as much as $20,992,365, according to the criminal complaint.
Some of the suspects used KeyBank cards to receive funds from New York State to withdraw from ATMs while others had the money directly deposited into their own bank accounts.
"COVID benefit payments were meant to keep Americans who lost jobs, income, and financial stability from drowning in debt," NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said.
Photos included as evidence in the complaint show at least one of the alleged gang members holding a $30,000 stack of bills. Others posed in front of their newly purchased Maybach and BMW vehicles.
Investigators also revealed that several of the gang members had appeared in a music video titled "Trappin" on YouTube in which the lyrics "unemployment got us workin' a lot" appear to reference the fraud scheme.
The suspects have been identified as Romean Brown, 23; 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.
The arrests come after rising drill rapper TDott Woo, an alleged member of the Woo gang, was shot dead outside of his home earlier this month.