It is undeniable that the coronavirus pandemic has been responsible for a host of economic disruptions across the country and has taken a massive toll on countless businesses. If you are among those business owners who sustained significant losses as a result of the crisis, perhaps you sought assistance through one or more government programs that were designed to help.
However, while initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) have been a lifeline for many businesses, it is important for those who received funds in this way to carefully examine the terms under which they received it. Authorities are currently on the lookout for instances of fraud and abuse in this realm, and if you find yourself facing accusations of impropriety in connection with receipt of a PPP loan, it is necessary to seek the advice of experienced legal counsel.
CARES Act Fundamentals
Back in March of 2020, Congress passsed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to provide assistance to those especially hard-hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic. As part of the more than $2 million in help provided by the federal government, the PPP was established to provide emergency funds to small businesses impacted by statewide shutdowns.
The PPP was meant to help business owners harmed by the pandemic temporarily cover payroll costs, overhead expenses such as rent and mortgage payments, utilities, and the like, and this funding could be provided for up to eight weeks of business operation. Small Business Administration (SBA) lenders were charged with providing and administering these loans.
Those seeking help through the PPP were and are subject to stringent eligibility criteria. Only enterprises with fewer than 500 workers could receive funds under the program, and owners were required to certify that the pandemic had created circumstances under which the assistance was essential to the survival of the enterprise.
Terms of Loan Forgiveness
An especially appealing aspect of the PPP to business owners has always been the fact that the loans were designed to be forgiven in their entirety, provided certain defined conditions were met. Among these were that the loan funds were only used to pay permissible expenses and that no employees were fired or laid-off and no employee wages were decreaed for the relevant eight-week period.
Forgiveness of loans provided under the PPP also requires that 75% of any loan amount ultimately forgiven be used only to cover payroll costs. As such, it is advisable to secure the assistance of legal counsel to ensure that all forgiveness eligibility requirements were met and compliance was achieved.
Federal authorities are focusing on possible instances of PPP fraud now more than ever. The SBA is actively scrutinizing loan applications and certifications, as are the Justice Department and congressional leaders.
Accusations of PPP fraud commonly lodged by federal authorities often include claims that business owners seeing coronavirus aid loans claimed nonexistent employees on their applications, were not in actual operation before the pandemic began, failed to produce accurate payroll data, or did not use loan proceeds for permissible purposes.
Though there are certainly instances in which unscrupulous players sought to take advantage of the crisis to obtain PPP funds fraudulently, there are counless cases in which simple mistakes or misinterpretations on the part of a business owner have led to investigations and allegations of unlawful activity. An experienced attorney can help examine the facts underlying your PPP application and certifications and lodge a defense should you face accusations of fraud.
Business owners who received funds through the PPP should realize that it is not just federal authorities watching for fraudulent conduct. Whistleblower incentives are also prompting external actors to seek out questionable scenarios in order to prompt further investigation and potentially earn financial rewards.
As such, even if your application and certifications related to a PPP loan were totally appropriate and wholly accurate, allegations from a third party will only serve to put the government on notice about the existence and ongoing operations of enterprise, possibly causing you no end of hassles and headaches. An experienced fraud defense lawyer is the ally you need in order to get through what can often be a very trying experience.
If you are already aware that your business is under investigation over allegations of PPP-related fraud, or if you are simply wishing to prevent such a situation from developing in the first place, it is wise to consult with a seasoned fraud defense lawyer who can advise you of your rights and help safeguard your reputation. The federal government can be extremely aggressive when it comes to prosecuting offenses in this realm, so the sooner you obtain guidance from a practitioner knowledgeable in this realm, the sooner you can rest assured that you are taking all possible steps to protect your future and that of your business.