In PPP fraud case, companies settle whistleblower allegations

by Ben Vernia | January 10th, 2023

On January 9, the Department of Justice announced that four companies had agreed to settle a whistleblower firm’s allegations that they defrauded the government in the Paycheck Protection Program. According to DOJ’s press release:

Four California agricultural companies and their owner have agreed to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) by knowingly submitting false information in support of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications. Mendota Land Co., Sweetwood Farm Co. LLC, Sweetwood Farm Inc., Seasholtz Co. LLC, and their owner John Seasholtz (collectively, “Seasholtz”) are alleged to have improperly inflated the employee headcount on the companies’ PPP loan applications by impermissibly including non-employee contract workers who were, in fact, employed by other, unrelated entities. The settlement resolves allegations that the inclusion of non-employees caused Seasholtz to receive approximately $1.8 million in excess PPP funds. Seasholtz previously repaid the excess PPP loan funds to the lender, thereby relieving the U.S. Small Business Administration of liability for approximately $1.8 million in loan guarantees. As a part of the settlement announced today, Seasholtz agreed to pay approximately $400,000 in damages and penalties under the FCA and approximately $200,000 in civil penalties under FIRREA.

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Congress created the PPP in March 2020, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to provide emergency financial support to the millions of Americans suffering economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act authorized billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses struggling to pay employees and other business expenses. When applying for PPP loans, borrowers were required to certify the truthfulness and accuracy of all information provided in their loan applications, including their number of employees and average monthly payroll.

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The Government stated that no decision had yet been made on the amount to be paid the whistleblower, an LLC company.

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