A Brooklyn street gang has been charged with pocketing more than $4.3 million in pandemic relief benefits, using stolen identities to file 1,000 fraudulent unemployment claims, prosecutors said.
Eleven members of the Woo gang were accused of filing more than $20 million in false benefit applications, about a fifth of which were approved, and having the payments sent to addresses they controlled.
Prosecutors said the gang was ultimately caught, in part, because members posted numerous pictures and videos of themselves online, flashing gang signs and piles of cash, often while standing in front of luxury cars, including Lamborghini and Mercedes Benz vehicles.
“Photographs and videos of the defendants posted on publicly accessible social-media pages show them (a.) expressing their allegiance to the Woo street gang through hand signs and other means, and (b.) flaunting their ill-gotten gains by displaying large stacks of United States currency and standing near luxury vehicles,” investigators wrote in the criminal complaint.
In May 2021, several of the accused gang members appeared in a music video on YouTube, entitled “Trappin,” which included lyrics such as: “Unemployment got us workin’ a lot,” which investigators argued in court papers was a reference to the fraud scheme.
Ten of the 11 men — who are all 23 or younger — were taken into custody on Thursday and couldn’t be reached for comment. It was not clear if they had retained attorneys. One of the men remained at large, investigators said.
Prosecutors say that between March 2020 and October 2021, the men got hold of the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of 800 people, and used them to submit nearly 1,000 claims to New York State’s Department of Labor for unemployment benefits related to pandemic assistance programs.
While many of the claims were rejected, several hundred were approved, and prosecutors say the men had debit cards containing the benefit payments sent to mailing addresses to which they had access.
All 11 men have been charged with conspiracy to commit access-device fraud and aggravated identity theft.