A street gang in Milwaukee, Wisc., allegedly stole millions of dollars in pandemic relief money that was then used to carry out a murder and purchase guns and drugs, among other items, according to a federal indictment.
The 43-count indictment charges 30 members of the “Wild 100s,” also known as the “Shark Gang,” with a litany of crimes that include mail fraud, murder for hire, conspiracy to sell guns, illegal possession of firearms including a machine gun, and drug possession with intent to sell.
The indictment was returned by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and unsealed in May.
The alleged leader of the gang, Ronnell Bowman, and another defendant, Ronnie Jackson, were charged with the April 2021 killing of an individual named only as N.B. in a murder-for-hire scheme.
Bowman and Jackson have pleaded not guilty. Bowman, who was arrested in the Houston area in May, is being held in detention pending his trial. The two men could face life in prison if convicted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Kwaterski told a federal judge in May that Bowman was the ringleader of the fraud scheme and was personally responsible for $850,000 in stolen Covid relief money, according to a transcript from the defendant’s detention hearing.
The fraud methods Bowman allegedly taught other gang members resulted in the theft of millions of dollars of Covid money, Kwaterski told the judge during the hearing.
The indictment alleges that the “Wild 100s” filed fraudulent claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in California and several other states.
The defendants used pre-loaded debit cards issued by the states’ unemployment programs to withdraw cash from ATMs in Wisconsin, according to the indictment. The stolen Covid cash was allegedly spent to arrange the murder and to purchase guns, drugs, jewelry, clothing and vacations, among other items.
Bowman allegedly used the stolen money to solicit the murder and to purchase multiple firearms, including machine guns, and then gave those weapons to others knowing they would be used to commit violence, including murder, Kwaterski told the judge during the detention hearing.
Bowman allegedly offered to pay for the murder of a rival gang member’s mother or sister on Instagram, according to evidence presented by Kwaterski at that hearing. Instead, the rival gang member’s friend was found killed. Jackson was allegedly paid $10,000 to commit the murder, according to Kwaterski.
Bowman is suspected in two other murders-for-hire related to a war with a rival gang, Kwaterski told the judge during the detention hearing.
The breakup of the “Wild 100s” by law enforcement was part of a nationwide sweep this summer by Justice Department strike teams targeting $836 million in stolen Covid money. The operation led to charges against 371 defendants in a range of fraud cases.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland established a task force in May 2021 to go after fraudsters who have stolen Covid relief money. Criminal charges have been filed against more than 3,000 people and over $1.4 billion in stolen money has been recovered so far, according to the DOJ.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said last week that the DOJ is setting up new strike teams in Colorado and New Jersey to continue the hunt for stolen relief money.
“We will seek judicial orders requiring convicted defendants to pay back every stolen dollar and we have 20 years to realize those recoveries,” Monaco said.
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