The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provided a lifeline for millions of business owners when the pandemic had many closing their doors and staying home.
The forgivable loans that had to be borrowed through the Small Business Administration (SBA) used taxpayer money that were intended to cover payroll for employees and, later, other eligible expenses.
Nearly 11.5 million people filed applications, resulting in more than $792 billion worth of loans, according to the original article from WAFB.
“The Paycheck Protection Program saved millions of jobs. It was this difficult road that we had about a week, but our bankers got it done and, and our businesswomen and businessmen stepped up to the plate and took advantage of it,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
However, not everyone taking part in the federal program was looking to keep their business doors open.
The Department of Justice confirms they are looking into reports of PPP fraud across the nation.
According to the SBA, lenders are responsible for vetting applications and making sure the applicant is telling the truth in whatever way they see fit.
“The SBA has very broad rules, very, very large leeway on what the lender had to request from the bar to get that guarantee secure,” said the SBA Louisiana District Director Michael Ricks.
In Louisiana, a federal grand jury recently indicted a Plaquemine woman named Lestreonia Rodrigue on fraud charges. She’s accused of making up fake businesses to collect more than $20,000 through a PPP loan and another $500,000 in prepaid debit cards through unemployment claims.
In October, another federal grand jury indicted a Monroe man named Michael Ansezell Tolliver on fraud and money laundering charges after obtaining more than $1.1 million in loans after he submitted nine fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program loan applications on behalf of several purported companies that he owned.
“I don’t know why it is that that some people take advantage of a program like this in a time of crisis. To me, it’s like looting after a hurricane. And I, I think we ought to prosecute every single one of them to the full extent of the law,” said Kennedy.
He admits the program may have had some holes in it, due to how quickly it was rolled out, and the loan program has been updated many times to expand eligibility. So now, he says agencies must go after anyone who might be taking money they’re not entitled to.
“My directive to SBA and to the Department of Justice will be to work with our state attorneys general, work with local DHS, work with local sheriffs, and make sure people understand if you steal money, these are these are finite resources,” said Kennedy. “If you’re going to steal money, finite resources from people who need them, then, by God, we’re going to prosecute you.”
However, both Kennedy and Ricks say the good the program did far outweigh any possible fraud.
“My feeling is that despite the fraud, the program helped far, far, far more of my people than it hurt,” said Kennedy.
Federal investigators cannot comment on active investigations or give an estimate on how much fraud may have occurred through federal pandemic relief programs, but a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Louisiana confirms there were fraudulent applications submitted in Louisiana through several relief programs including the PPP.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, there have been dozens of people charged with fraud nationwide and there are five pending Federal civil procedures where agencies are looking to get back $2.3 million worth of fraudulent assets including two high-end cars, a house, and cash.
PPP loan information is available to the public through the SBA, and several groups have even published that information in the form of online search-able databases that anyone can use.
Both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Louisiana Attorney General have encouraged the community to report suspected fraud. The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) is in Baton Rouge and reports can be filed here.
To see more of the article from WAFB, click here.
Stay in touch with us anytime, anywhere.
To reach the newsroom or report a typo/correction, click HERE.
Sign up for newsletters emailed to your inbox. Select from these options: Breaking News, Evening News Headlines, Latest COVID-19 Headlines, Morning News Headlines, Special Offers