FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - As the region's largest private employer, Parkview Health has a payroll of more than 13,000 full- or part-time workers.
By all accounts, it is a major economic driver in the community, and any serious financial problems within Parkview would have a ripple effect across Allen County and the dozen or so counties that surround it.
So when ABC21 reviewed newly released data from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, "Parkview Health System" was a name that jumped off the page.
The nonprofit health care giant -- approved for a $1.14 million loan.
We first identified Parkview as a "recipient" during a March review of data organized and shared by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit news organization that has been recognized for its efforts in data journalism.
Among the thousands upon thousands of entities listed: Parkview Health System Inc., for the loan amount of $1,143,125.
It wasn't just a surprise to us. It was news to Parkview, as well.
Its communications director checked -- then checked again -- and found nothing to indicate that Parkview Health had sought the loan.
"We have contacted the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to report suspected fraud.”PARKVIEW HEALTH
We checked again, too.
The raw data from the Small Business Administration confirmed the information. Parkview was approved for the loan.
A loan the health care LLC tells us it never sought.
"After further investigation, we’ve learned that no Parkview Health entity has applied for a PPP loan," Jessica Foor, Parkview's Communications Director, told us. "We have contacted the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to report suspected fraud.”
While the overwhelming majority of PPP loan recipients are businesses with 500 employees or fewer, the SBA does note that some larger companies may qualify for the program.
During the first round of loan approval, well-known national brands made headlines for their inclusion -- restaurant chains, retailers, even some sports franchises (many later returned the funds).
"(A)bout 5 percent of government funds are subject to fraud waste and abuse."BRIAN SANVIDGE, REGULATORY COMPLIANCE SPECIALIST
But a leading expert on fraud stemming from the Paycheck Protection Program tells ABC21 that the massive government-backed effort isn't designed for market-topping employers like Parkview Health.
"So when you have an employer that employs thousands of people, they should have been disqualified right up front," Brian Sanvidge said.
These days, Sanvidge heads up regulatory compliance and investigations for the New York City-based Anchin, Block & Anchin, LLP, a 98-year-old accounting firm. Previously, he served as Inspector General for the New York State Department of Labor, where he oversaw more than 5,000 investigations during a 12-year period.
Sanvidge appreciates the role the government has played in helping businesses emerge from the pandemic.
"These are very good programs that are designed to help out individuals and to help out businesses keeping people on the payroll," he said.
But he's well aware of the widespread effort to take advantage of the situation.
"You have to create documents for this entity, payroll records, and financial statements, and the information that would've accompanied the loan application," he told us. "Current statistics are saying about 5 percent of government funds are subject to fraud waste and abuse.
"When you look at the trillions of dollars between the three stimulus packages that have already been approved, you can quickly see how large those numbers are ultimately going to be."
Sanvidge has been compiling data showing just how big an issue that has become, and he shared it with ABC21.
To date: $626 million has been seized or forfeited as a result of civil and criminal investigations involving the PPP and related government programs.
"This is literally going to be the tip of the iceberg. There are over 150,000 hotline complaints already received by the SBA Inspector General's office," he said.
We asked -- Could someone really get away with something as bold as a Parkview impersonation?
"I am sure the goal was to cash the check," he said. "Ultimately, those funds would've been wired into the account.
"When you actually do the application, you actually put where you want the funds to be wired to. This was all done through an electronic transfer, so that information would've been included in your application, as to where you wanted the funds."
Funds are actually issued by a lender -- not the SBA or any other government entity.
In this case, the listed lender is one of the most active in the Paycheck Protection Program -- Itria Ventures LLC.
As of publication, Itria Ventures had not responded to our inquiries.
The SBA data, however, shows the status of the Parkview Health loan as "Not Fully Disbursed."
ABC21 connected with three different individuals at the SBA, but we were told they would not address a specific case.
A representative did tell us that changes were made to the program in 2021 "to address possibility of waste, fraud and abuse of the Paycheck Protection Program. This more rigorous process maximizes program integrity and optimizes the use of SBA’s loan review resources."
“To anyone thinking of using the global pandemic as an opportunity to scam and steal from hardworking Americans, my advice is simple: Don’t."NICHOLAS MCQUAID, ACTING ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL
ABC21 also reached out to the Department of Justice. Again, we were told they could not speak to a specific case.
The Criminal Division's Fraud Section reports "at least 120 defendants charged with PPP fraud" so far.
Meanwhile, in a video statement posted recently on the DOJ website, Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas McQuaid warned those looking to pull a fast one to think twice.
“To anyone thinking of using the global pandemic as an opportunity to scam and steal from hardworking Americans, my advice is simple: Don’t," he said. "No matter where you are or who you are, we will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."
To report a COVID-19-related fraud scheme or suspicious activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling the NCDF Hotline at 866-720-5721. You can also complete the NCDF online complaint form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
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