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PPP loans turn up surprises

The COVID relief program is winding down. With that comes some inspections of people who applied for the COVID money and what they did with it.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) COVID relief money was meant to go to businesses  to keep them afloat during the pandemic. Who got loans and what the loans are for will surprise some people.

In the 31620 zip code, 373 loans were issued. Nearly all were forgiven, meaning the person or company getting the loan did not have to pay it back.

For instance, zip code 31620 lists 6 taxi services, 18 clothing stores, retail and wholesale and 15 companies or individuals that offer “all other personal services” or “all other business support services.” These categories are not defined in the loan applications.

Some businesses did not apply for the PPP loan.

Some of the clothing stores are listed a wholesale businesses. Several are also located in a home in a residential part of town. State law is silent about a wholesale clothing store located in a home.

Georgia law requires wholesalers to have a sales tax ID number. A check at the Department of Revenue showed several of these businesses, as listed, do not have a sales tax ID. The DOR website will show inactive sales tax licenses, but does not say how far back such records go.

The ANT sent a list of some of these businesses to City Hall to see if they have a City business license. Businesses within the City of Adel must have a business license.

City Hall replied: “Our business license listing does not show that either of the persons listed below has a current license issued in their name, nor did we locate anything for that address. If a business is placed “out of business” is it purged from our system. We did look back at a manual list of licenses for years 2020-2022 and did not find a license in either of the names. Please note this listing is by “business name” and not owner. If you have a business name that would have been associated with the below individuals, we can certainly search for that business name; however, we did not find a license issued in the name of the below individuals.”

Georgia does not require taxi drivers have a state permit to do drive for hire, but they can have one. Taxi drivers are required to have a background check certification or the state license.

Background checks are confidential. Taxi licenses are public. The Georgia Department of Public Safety maintains a public list of taxi licenses. In early June 2023, Cook County had no licensed taxi drivers.

One of the listed companies is Cook Publishing at 131 S. Hutchinson Ave. The company was owned by Trib Publications at the time. The company borrowed $90,538.87 and $91,234.64 was written off. The loan was through F & M Bank and Trust Company and dated April 15, 2020. Trib was based in Manchester, GA.

B&H Publishing bought parts of Cook Publishing after the loans were forgiven. At the time of the loans, Cook Publishing owned 5 newspapers. According to ANT Publisher Maria Hardman, none of the newspaper group’s employees received any of the money from the loans. She said she did not sign any loan paperwork either.

One of the biggest loans in the 31620 zip code is Williams Investment Company. Williams borrowed $1,472,255. At the time of the loan, the company listed 405 employees. The loan was made through The First. $1,489,390.41 was written off. The additional amount is interest.

PPP Lender Prestamos prepared 38 loans for the 31620 zip code. Prestamos is the No. 3 overall PPP lender and is one under investigation by federal authorities. Benworth Capital, which is now banned from doing business with the SBA, prepared 26 loans.

Searching the list of loans and recipients does require some caution. A search using “Cook County” will generally point to Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located. A search using Sparks turns up many towns in Georgia with a road named Sparks.

A better way to search is by zip code. This too has some shortcomings. Zip codes do cross county lines. The Lenox zip code 31637 also reaches in Tift, Colquitt and Berrien Counties. Zip Code 31632, Hahira, covers a bit of southern Cook County.

The list of zip codes used in these articles does not include Hahira. It does use Lenox. Zip codes not listed can be searched at the Chronicle and ProPublica websites.

The number of businesses operating pretty much everywhere based on the approved loans will surprise some people.

The is local list is at It is far too long to be printed in the newspaper.

Some people are now serving jail time for COVID relief fraud. They applied for the federal money and lied on their applications.

The loans, who took them out, their businesses and so forth are all public record. Providing this information to the public is legal.

A number of media outlets have investigated the COVID relief funds. The Augusta Chronicle newspaper in particular investigated and compiled a searchable database of who got how much money, what bank they used and what business they were in. The ProPublica website also has a searchable database of PPP loans with the same information.

All the information at the Chronicle and ProPublica websites comes from the Small Business Administration. The records are open to the public.

NBC news says, “No one is sure exactly how much was stolen. An academic paper released last year estimated at least $76 billion in potential fraud, and the authors said that was conservative.”

The national broadcaster adds, “The SBA’s inspector general has identified $78.1 billion in potentially fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loans, another Covid relief program for businesses. The Secret Service has its own estimate: $100 billion.”

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