Florida hotel companies settle whistleblower’s PPP fraud allegations

by Ben Vernia | March 24th, 2023

On March 21, the Department of Justice announced that two Florida resort hotels had agreed to pay $325,000 to settle False Claims Act charges, originally brought by a whistleblower, that the companies had submitted fraudulent claims for loans under the COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program. According to DOJ’s press release:

Florida companies Kingwood Orlando Reunion Resort LLC (Orlando Reunion) and Kingwood Crystal River Resort Corp. (Crystal River) 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 providing false information in support of a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness application submitted by Crystal River.

Congress created the PPP in March 2020, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to provide emergency loans to small businesses suffering economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act authorized these businesses to seek forgiveness of the loans if they spent the loan funds on eligible expenses, such as payroll. When applying for forgiveness of PPP loans, borrowers were required to certify the truthfulness and accuracy of all information provided in their applications. A PPP recipient seeking loan forgiveness based on the payment of wages was only entitled to forgiveness for the amount of wages actually paid to its employees during the designated period.

Here, Orlando Reunion and Crystal River, which are related but operate separate resorts, both received separate PPP loans. The United States alleged that Crystal River sought forgiveness of its PPP loan, in-part, by certifying that it used a portion of its PPP loan to pay wages of Crystal River employees, when in fact, some of the employees to whom it claimed to have paid wages were actually Orlando Reunion employees whom Crystal River did not employ or pay. As a part of the settlement announced today, Crystal River and Orlando Reunion agreed to pay $271,720 in damages and penalties under the FCA and $53,280 in civil penalties under FIRREA. 

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The whistleblower will receive approximately $46,000 of the settlement (a 17% relator’s share), the government also announced.

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