PPP Recipients Brace for Potential Criminal Prosecution

PPP Recipients Brace for Potential Criminal Prosecution

Businesses that obtained Paycheck Protection (“PPP”) Act refundable loans above $2 million may soon find themselves in the unenviable position of defending themselves against potential federal criminal prosecution.

The Small Business Administration, which administered the PPP, quietly submitted “Loan Necessity Questionnaires”, including a “liquidity assessment”, to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) for approval in late October. The forms demand very specific financial data about access to funds at the time the loan was made, to allow “SBA loan reviewers to evaluate the good-faith certification that (the Borrower) made on (its) PPP Borrower Application (SBA Form 2483 or Lender’s equivalent form) that economic uncertainty made the loan request necessary”.

The new questions even ask about such normally confidential business matters as revenue declines and shutdowns of the business by government order (in connection with the Pandemic). In addition, PPP recipients must describe their spending to control the spread of COVID-19, and even capital spending plans.

The draft form also asks the PPP borrower to identify for each question whether a response is “customarily kept confidential”.  However, that designation now appears moot, after the SBA was ordered to reveal all details of its major stimulus loan programs by a federal judge, including specific borrowers and loan amounts.  https://bankingjournal.aba.com/2020/11/court-orders-disclosure-of-all-ppp-eidl-loan-recipients-by-nov-19/

Although the SBA has not yet posted the forms itself (presumably pending OMB approval), you can easily find both versions of the form (3509 for for-profit firms, and 3510 for nonprofits) by searching the internet by the form numbers.

In addition, draft versions of the 9 page forms mentioned in the Federal Register notice about them (https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-10-26/pdf/2020-23594.pdf) are now available on the news site www.politico.com, at https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000175-7c07-d665-a1ff-fe0fd5390000.

A tax site also provides a lengthy description of the forms.  (https://www.currentfederaltaxdevelopments.com/blog/2020/10/31/sba-announces-will-create-questionnaire-to-determine-need-for-ppp-loans-purported-copies-being-circulated-online)

Although the SBA has not announced its rationale for requiring this form – nor does it have to – the “fund now, ask questions later” strategy of the initial PPP rollout likely provides an explanation.  https://www.sgrvlaw.com/the-paycheck-protection-program-what-a-long-strange-trip-its-been/

To inject cash into the economy at the start of the shutdown, quickly, the SBA simply required borrowers to certify that the “current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant”.  No further justification – or financial data – was required.

In my experience, small businesses accustomed to providing extensive financial information to bank lenders were skeptical about getting significant funding without comparable documentation.  It now seems that they were correct – the request was just delayed.

Unfortunately, the ease of applying for PPP funding led to many well publicized abuses by recipients, which likely explains the new forms.  However, one study found such potentially fraudulent loans represented only 0.01 percent of all PPP funding.  https://cepr.net/new-york-times-reports-that-0-01-percent-of-the-paycheck-protection-program-was-fraudulently-spent/

Formally, the SBA will issue requests for the new forms to lenders who submit forgiveness applications – suggesting another reason for borrowers to consider delaying a forgiveness application.

Despite the uncertainty about this enforcement effort, the detailed accounting questions on the draft forms provide a roadmap for planning your defense now with your CPA, before the prosecutor calls – especially since a response will be due just ten days after you receive the request for the form.

  • Assemble information on how the PPP funds were used, particularly for preserve jobs.
  • Document your expenses and other sources of cash, if any, at the time you applied for the PPP loan.

Since no specifics are yet available about this program – it was discovered only through the request for approval of the “necessity” certification  forms – monitoring online sources remains the best way to stay current (as it has been throughout all the Pandemic relief programs).

Unfortunately, the latest PPP twist confirms the old adage (and small business common sense), “There’s no such thing as free money”.


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