Officials say they’re committed to rooting out this kind of fraud.By Andy Sheehan

BRADDOCK, Pa. (KDKA) — The small borough of Braddock is at the center of a possible fraud ring.

The U.S. Department of Justice has prosecuted similar rings across the country, and the government acknowledges the fraud is widespread.

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KDKA pounded the pavement and pounded on doors in the pursuit of people who filed for Paycheck Protection Program loans.

More than two dozen people received tens of thousands of dollars in coronavirus relief funds for small businesses even though KDKA found no evidence that those businesses exist. But each of the filers got approved for the maximum $20,000 in PPP after claiming to be out-of-work beauticians, barbers and caterers.

After KDKA alerted him, Braddock Police Chief Guy Collins began his own investigation, concluding that an organized fraud ring is operating in his town.

“If you have that many people in this general area, I would say there has to be some kind of connection,” he said.

Over the past 12 months, the Department of Justice has prosecuted similar rings from Rhode Island to California. The largest was for $24 million dollars of stolen funds in Ohio and Florida, where operators filed false claims for some 90 non-existent businesses and got kickbacks from the people who got the money.

Collins suspects that is what has happened in Braddock — someone filed most of the fraudulent claims on behalf of willing people and then collected a hefty fee.

Though records show one man was approved for the maximum loan as a caterer, he said he’s the victim of identity theft.

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: Are you a caterer?

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Man: No.

Sheehan: Are you getting $20,000?

Man: No, I never received anything. I know nothing about it.

As did a woman who was questioned by the chief.

Collins: They were saying there was some kind of business here. But I don’t see any business.

Woman: Business? What kind of business?

Chief: Construction, mining and equipment. … You didn’t apply for it, correct?

Woman: Correct.

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Locally, the U.S. Attorneys’ office would neither confirm nor deny an investigation, but the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration says they’re committed to rooting out this kind of fraud.