Crooks get rich on government program meant to help struggling small businesses

Better Call Behnken

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A growing number of Tampa Bay residents are learning they’re on the hook for loans meant to help struggling small businesses survive the pandemic.

“I just can’t even imagine that they would just give out a loan like this,” said Amelia Shevenell, a USF professor in St. Petersburg.

Shevenell learned she owes the government $75,500 for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan that someone took out in her name. She has alerted authorities, filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s Office, and informed the SBA of their error.

“I have a lot of friends who own small businesses here in St. Pete who had a lot of trouble getting assistance during the lockdown,” Shevenell said. “And it makes me really sad that they went through this whole process, weren’t able to get funding, and somebody was able to take out a loan in my name for a company that doesn’t exist. That money could have really helped a lot of people.”

In her case the con artist wasn’t even creative, naming the fake business, Amelia Shevenell Farm.

She’s not alone is her frustration over and disbelief.

Better Call Behnken has heard from residents with loans for $10,000 to $150,000 ranging from doctors, college students, professors and retired people. None of them applied for the loans and none of them have actually owned a business.

Where is the oversight, and how was it so easy for crooks to cash in, leaving innocent citizens on the hook?

Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware recently testified before Congress that the SBA did 14 years of worth of lending in 14 days.

“The speed and reduced controls surrounding this lending authority brought with it substantially increased risk,” Ware said.

It’s a risk that ended up putting money that was supposed to help small businesses into the wrong hands.

Congressman Ross Spano is chairman of a subcommittee of Small Business Oversight. He sent this statement:

“As the Ranking Member on the Small Business Oversight Subcommittee, I am in touch with the SBA on this matter.  I advise anyone impacted to contact the SBA Inspector General to file a complaint and then reach out to their Member of Congress to open a casework inquiry. Florida 15th District residents should contact my office at 863-644-8215 or online at”  


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