The Paycheque Protection Program (PPP) provided a lifeline for millions of business owners when the pandemic forced many to close their doors and stay at home.

The forgivable loans that were to be borrowed through the Small Business Administration (SBA) used taxpayer money to cover employee payrolls and, later, other eligible expenses.

Almost 11.5 million people have applied, resulting in more than $ 792 billion in loans, according to the original WAFB article.

“The Paycheque Protection Program has saved millions of jobs. It was this tough road that we had for about a week, but our bankers made it and, and our businesswomen and businessmen stepped in and took advantage, ”said Senator John Kennedy, R -The.

However, not all federal program participants were keen to keep their business doors open.

The Justice Department confirms that it is reviewing reports of PPP fraud across the country.

According to the SBA, lenders are responsible for reviewing claims and making sure the claimant is telling the truth in the way they see fit.

“The SBA has very broad rules, very, very wide latitude over what the lender had to ask the bar to get that guarantee,” said Louisiana SBA district manager Michael Ricks.

In Louisiana, a federal grand jury recently indicted a woman from Plaquemine named Lestreonia Rodrigue with fraud. She is accused of setting up bogus businesses to raise over $ 20,000 through a PPP loan and an additional $ 500,000 in prepaid debit cards through jobless claims.

In October, another federal grand jury indicted a Monroe man named Michael Ansezell Tolliver with fraud and money laundering after obtaining more than $ 1.1 million in loans after submitting nine fraudulent loan applications to the program. paycheck protection and economic disaster loan program on behalf of several alleged businesses he owned.

“I don’t know why some people take advantage of a program like this in times of crisis. To me, it’s like looting after a hurricane. And I think we should prosecute each of them with all the force of the law, ”Kennedy said.

He admits that the program may have had a few shortcomings, due to the speed with which it was rolled out, and that the loan program has been updated several times to expand eligibility. So now he’s saying agencies should go after anyone who might take money they’re not entitled to.

“My direction to the SBA and the Department of Justice will be to work with our state attorneys general, work with local DHS, work with local sheriffs, and make sure people understand that if you steal money. ‘money is finite resources,’ Kennedy said. “If you are going to steal money, limited resources from people in need, then by God we are going to sue you.”

However, Kennedy and Ricks claim that the good the program has done far outweighs any possible fraud.

“My feeling is that despite the fraud, the program has helped many, many, many more of my people than it has hurt,” Kennedy said.

Federal investigators cannot comment on ongoing investigations or give an estimate of the extent of fraud that may have occurred under federal pandemic relief programs, but a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Louisiana Central District confirms that there have been fraudulent claims submitted in Louisiana through several relief programs including the PPP.

Dozens of people have been charged with fraud nationwide, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and there are five ongoing federal civil proceedings where agencies seek to recover $ 2.3 million in fraudulent assets, including two. high end cars, a house and cash. .

Information on PPP loans is publicly available through the SBA, and several groups have even published this information in the form of searchable online databases that anyone can use.

Both the US attorney’s office and the Louisiana attorney general have encouraged the community to report suspicions of fraud. The National Disaster Fraud Enforcement Center (NCDF) is located in Baton Rouge and reports can be filed here.

To see more of the WAFB article, click here.

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