Woo Gang COVID scammers defeated by their own flashy messages, feds say

When detectives from the NYPD’s Intelligence Division noticed members of Brooklyn’s Woo street gang posting photos of themselves to social media from upscale locations that looked nothing like their home neighborhoods, they realized something was wrong.

“Palm trees in the background and a swimming pool,” a senior law enforcement official told The Daily Beast. “Movie star homes.”

Detectives quickly figured out that a number of the photos had been taken in plush rental homes far from the Canarsie neighborhood where Woo – which is sometimes spelled with an extra “o” and would mean “We On Our Own”-is based.

“They were posting on all their Instagram pages where they were at these fabulous homes, not New York,” the official said. “And you know, these are, these are guys who never go more than three blocks from Canarsie. So you must be wondering, what are they doing there? And how come they live so big? With what racket, with what money? Like, how does this happen?

A number of photos, which detectives say were taken in California and Florida, showed the gang members brandishing firearms. Investigators were eventually able to match the background of at least one of the homes with an Airbnb listing.

“You’d see guys waving guns and you’d look at him and say, ‘Where is he? ‘” the law enforcement official said. “And you would go through Airbnb listings and say, ‘Okay, I have the same rental here. There’s the dining room table, here’s the pool in the back that matches everything we see.’”

During the investigation, the team of city cops and federal agents combed through bank records, tracing various withdrawals that apparently funded the gang members’ lavish new lifestyle. They soon discovered the gang had used false names to file claims for unemployment benefits administered under a federal COVID relief program, the official said.

That’s when the NYPD teamed up with the US Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG) and determined that a group of individuals had used more than 800 false identities to file nearly 1 000 unemployment claims, obtaining at least $4.3 million in illicit income. benefits. All apps were assigned to a small handful of IP addresses, the official said.

Thursday morning, eight Woo members and associates between the ages of 20 and 23 have been arrested for federal fraud.

The suspects – identified by the Department of Justice as Romean Brown, Tyrek Clarke, Kennith Desir, Stephan Dorminvil, Kai Heyward, Keith James, Oneal Marks, Jahriah Olivierre, Christopher Jean Pierre, Roleeke Smith and Christopher Topey – carried out the scheme presumed. between March 2020 and October 2021, according to prosecutors.

Last May, several of those arrested appeared in a music video for a song called “Trappin,” the DOJ noted in a statement, adding, “Lyrics to the song include, “Unemployment made us work a lot,” a reference to the fraudulent scheme of the defendants.

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

The complaint against the eight includes screenshots of publicly available Instagram posts in which the Woo members are seen posing with a Mercedes Maybach, a Lamborghini SUV and a Jaguar. Among other things, the posts show them showing off huge stacks of cash, carrying shopping bags from Saks Fifth Avenue, and “doing the street gang Woo (“W”) sign with their right hand while in sitting on a BMW 7″ series vehicle, the complaint states.

In one photo, one of the suspects flashes a different hand signal known as “dropping rakes”, which the complaint describes as “a gesture intended to show disrespect to the street gang Gangster Disciples”, a organization at war with Woo.

In another, a suspect wearing Burberry holds up a stack of cash with the location tag: Hollywood, California.

In a third, one of the suspects “holds a large stack of US currency with the caption ‘Happy Wooday To My Fucking Blood Brother Anything Go Up For You'”.

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

“The Unemployment Insurance program exists to provide necessary assistance to qualified individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own,” DOL-OIG Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Mellone said in a statement after the incident. announcement of the charges. “Unemployment Insurance program fraud diverts state labor agencies, like the New York State Department of Labor, from ensuring that benefits go to people who are eligible. to receive them. The Office of Inspector General will continue to work closely with our many law enforcement partners to investigate those who exploit the Unemployment Insurance program.

The federal response to COVID-19, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, has paid about $3.5 trillion since early 2020. But the program was plagued by fraud, and scammers grabbed nearly $100 billion, According to the US Secret Service.

“There is no doubt that the programs were easily accessible online,” said Roy Dotson, Deputy Secret Service Special Agent in Charge. told CNBC in December. “And so with that comes the opportunity for bad actors to get into that mix,” he said. “There was a need to try to get these funds to people who were really hurting, and through no fault of anyone.”

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

Today’s arrests came just hours before the body of alleged Woo member and rising rap star TDott Woo was transported in a white horse-drawn carriage outside his Brooklyn home. It was shot dead outside his residence on February 1, the same day he signed a record deal with Million Dollar Music that could have allowed him to live big legitimately. The rapper’s funeral is scheduled for Friday.

In February 2020, Pop Smoke, another Brooklyn-born rapper affiliated with Woo was shot dead by masked gunmen during a home invasion in a Hollywood Hills mansion owned by The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills actor Teddi Mellencamp and her husband. Pop Smoke’s posthumous hit single, “the courtierwas published in July. A month before his death, Pop Smoke had been arrested for stealing a $375,000 Rolls-Royce.

Last year, 34 suspected members of the Woo gang and a rival group, the Choo gang, were named in a 122-count indictment on charges of attempted murder, rape, conspiracy, assault and weapons.

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