5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: Sept. 10, 2020

Today was a very 2020 day.

At George Washington University, a white, Jewish professor who recently admitted to pretending to be Black turned in her resignation.

Also today marks the peak of the hurricane season in the Atlantic – a season that has already been pretty active – with seven more storms are being watched. Also, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that La Niña is here.

Closer to home, today is Henry Johnson Day. It is the fourth annual celebration of the Black Albany resident who signed up to serve in the first all African American unit to fight in WWI.

He enlisted on June 5, 1917. He was wounded 21 times, and in May 1918, he fought off a German raid saving a fellow soldier, all in hand-to-hand combat. For his actions, France awarded Sgt. Henry Johnson, their highest valor award and he was the first American to receive the honor.

His home country gave him nothing, even upon his return. He died in his mid-thirties, destitute, in 1929. He was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery. Finally, he was posthumously given the Purple Heart in 1996, the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002, and the National Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in 2015.

1) According to the U.S. Justice Department, 57 people have been charged with fraud after falsely filing for and receiving $175 million in coronavirus aid paycheck loans. Federal law enforcement officials say that they have hundreds of cases of suspected fraudulent claims in their sights.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt said the fraud perpetration against the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is not surprising, but still incredibly disturbing.

There are 500 people suspected by federal authorities of defrauding the PPP. In multiple instances, it appears that criminal rings were working together to pull off the theft of funds that were supposed to be used to support small businesses during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

Though it was implied that the amount that is likely involved would be “significant” when all is said and done, there were no final numbers attached to the release.

Last week a congressional panel announced that an investigation had revealed extensive fraud related to PPP applications and identified tens of thousands out of the 5.2 million loans given out that were either fraudulent or misused.

Earlier this week, JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced it would be helping law enforcement officials investigate after bank officials identified multiple cases of customers incorrectly using PPP funds. JPMorgan is responsible for handing out approximately $30 billion of the PPP loans.

Today, agents confirmed that they are using advanced technology to get early red flags. IRS Chief of Criminal Investigation James Lee closed out the briefing by warning anyone attempting to defraud the program that, with today’s tech, there is no hiding your trail.

2) In Knoxville, Tennessee, authorities are still searching for a tiger that was seen roaming around an industrial park last night. A deputy with the Knox County Sheriff’s office spotted the big cat at the Forks of the River Industrial Park.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency confirmed another sighting this morning, a few miles away from that industrial area. Though a TWRA officer is patrolling the area, there have been no other reports of the tiger.

Sheriff’s patrol and AirWatch are helping to search, as well as the KPD Animal Control Unit. The TWRA set up and removed a trap for the tiger earlier today, with no sighting. Authorities are asking that residents review any doorbell or security cameras for footage that might have captured the animal’s wanderings.

No one knows where the tiger is from, as the Zoo Knoxville confirmed all its tigers are present and accounted for, and the nearby no-kill tiger sanctuary, Tiger Haven, is helping with the search and not missing any animals.

3) Though New York residents are doing a good job overall at following the mask mandate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced an emergency rule today to increase compliance on public transportation. If you refuse to wear a mask on any bus or train across the state, you will be forced off and also face a fine of up to $50.

What officials are striving for is the lofty goal of universal compliance – and they’re not far off. MTA Chairman Pat Foye said there’s 90 percent compliance with the mask mandate on the Long Island Rail Road and 96 percent on NYC buses.

That is not enough for Cuomo and Foye, however, who said residents that have to rely on public transportation have the right to know that they will be safe. If a passenger lacks a mask one will be provided free of charge.

Most lawmakers are applauding the rule, but with the caveat that passengers must first be given a warning and also a mask. If they still refuse to comply at that point, they are endangering others around them and should not be allowed to ride. This is coming just as many school districts are getting ready to re-open. Many students who live in larger cities use public transportation for some part of their commute.

The MTA police will be those responsible for ensuring enforcement of the mandate, and according to the MTA, they will be focusing on those refusing to comply with the mask rule, not those wearing their masks incorrectly. (Editor’s note: COVER YOUR NOSE AND YOUR MOUTH AND YOUR CHIN, FOLKS!)

4) According to the New York State Police, Wen M. Lu, a 55-year-old Albany woman, has been arrested and charged with the felony charge of second-degree grand larceny for allegedly stealing over $100,000 of rent checks that were intended for a business located in Saratoga County.

According to investigators, Lu first created a fake bank account and then collected the rent checks for the business and put them into that forged account. She used the funds to pay for her own personal expenses.

The details of the case are closely held for now. The name of the business has not yet been released. We don’t know how long the investigation was ongoing, nor how the police were tipped off to the theft.

What is known is that Lu was arrested Tuesday. She was arraigned virtually, following current court procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also been released and is expected to return for a court appearance in October.

5) The Albany Police Department is currently in the beginning stages of a homicide investigation. Department spokesman Steve Smith, (Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, he’s my husband), released a statement with the following details:

Shortly after midnight this morning, there was a call for police to respond to shots fired in the area of First Street, between Ontario and Quail streets. When officers arrived on the scene, they found a male on the ground with multiple gunshot wounds to his stomach.

Though treated by emergency responders at the scene, the man was pronounced dead sometime after arriving at Albany Medical Center. The victim was 39 years old. No other information regarding is identity has been released at this point.

APD confirms that this is an ongoing investigation. If you have any information on what happened, please call APD Detective Division at (518) 462-8039.

Stay steady, stay strong, stay safe.

Stay woke.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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