CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Jovita Carranza, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, visited Clearwater Wednesday to tour a business that benefited from a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
While that business is a success story Carranza can be proud of, Better Call Behnken caught up with her to ask why a growing number of Tampa Bay area residents are finding out the SBA approved loans in their names and sent the money to crooks.
“Well first of all,” Carranza explained. “That office, the office of disaster assistance, was required to put a system in the first week or two when they president declared a disaster in the entire United States. And that office had to wrap up its systems, as well as its resources, and still to allocate about $357 billon dollars to small businesses.”
Consumer Investigator Shannon Behnken: “Do you know how many victims there are and how much money ended up in the wrong hands?”
Carranza: “We have kind of an idea only because we are working very closely with our inspector general.”
She went on to explain that there could be hundreds of people with fraudulent loans but that would translate to hundreds of millions of dollars. The Inspector General’s office is investigating and trying to track down the money, adding that the disaster fund has already distributed $190 billion.
Here’s some background:
Amelia Shevenell, a USF professor in St. Petersburg, is one of many fighting to clear her name after getting a letter from the SBA about paying back a loan she didn’t apply for.
“I just can’t even imagine that they would just give out a loan like this,” said
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.
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