Federal officials have charged five small contractors with fraud related to loans obtained from a key COVID-19 small business rescue program—and more charges are likely as investigators dig deeper into the financial records of companies that took the funds.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rabin, speaking to reporters on Sept. 10, said that 57 defendants in all industries had been charged, and he pledged to continue to root out fraud by recipients of some of the $500 billion distributed so far.
Distributed by the US Small Business Administration to employers who said they would use most of the money to keep staff on their payrolls, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been a key element in the federal pandemic support for the economy.
Construction-related companies were the most numerous borrowers under the program, but so far only a handful of small firms have been charged.
One of them is Florida roofer Casey Crowther, who allegedly spent nearly $700,000 of the funds to buy a 40-ft-long pleasure boat. Federal officials claim Crowther made a false statement to a financial institution in his application for just under $2.1 million in funding for his roofing business, Target Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc.
Crowther pledged in his loan application to use the money to make payroll, pay rent and utilities and meet other business expenses, but within days of receiving it, he allegedly bought a new catamaran for about $689,417 that he registered in his name, claimed U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez in a press release.
Crowther also allegedly transferred $100,000 to the bank account of a former stakeholder of his Fort Myers-based company who resigned more than six months ago. A company spokesman declined to comment at this time.
Contractor associations lobbied to make terms as friendly as possible for members. Although the final list of companies that used approved loans remains unknown, based on the long list of firms approved, tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs were likely saved.