Photo of Stephen M. ByersPhoto of Brian Tully McLaughlinPhoto of Amy Laderberg O'SullivanPhoto of Olivia LynchPhoto of Zachary Schroeder

On September 12, 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the first-ever settlement with a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lender.  The lender, Prosperity Bank, agreed to pay $18,673.50 to resolve allegations it improperly processed a PPP loan on behalf of an ineligible applicant.  The announcement coincides with DOJ’s creation of three COVID-19 fraud “Strike Force” teams designed to enhanced DOJ’s efforts to combat and prevent COVID-19 related fraud.

Pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, lenders who originated PPP loans were entitled to receive a fixed fee from the Small Business Administration (SBA) ranging from 1% to 5% of the loan amount.  Prosperity Bank, a regional bank with branches throughout Texas and Oklahoma, was one of those lenders.

In May 2020, Prosperity Bank processed and approved a $213,400 PPP loan for Woodlands Pain Institute PLLC.  According to the DOJ press release, at the time Prosperity Bank processed Woodlands Pain’s application, it knew that Woodlands Pain’s sole owner, Dr. Emad Bishai, was facing criminal charges stemming from his practice of prescribing opioid medicines.

In order to be eligible for a PPP loan, applicants were required to answer “No” to the question of whether the applicant (or any individual owning more than 20% equity) was subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction.  When completing the PPP application, Dr. Bishai checked the box marked “No” and initialed his name beneath the question.

Despite the alleged knowledge of Dr. Bishai’s criminal charges (and therefore his ineligibility for a PPP loan), Prosperity Bank approved Woodlands Pain’s application for a $213,400 PPP loan and received a 5% loan processing fee in the amount of $10,670 from SBA.  According to DOJ, the settlement amount of $18,673.50, close to double the processing fee, “reflects Prosperity Bank’s efforts to cooperate with the government’s investigation and provide relevant facts along with its implementation of additional compliance measures.”

Though small in dollar value, DOJ’s settlement with Prosperity Bank is likely the tip of the iceberg for False Claim Act enforcement actions against PPP lenders.  From program inception, SBA stated that it “will allow lenders to rely on certifications of the borrower in order to determine eligibility of the borrower and use of loan proceeds and to rely on specified documents provided by the borrower to determine qualifying loan amount and eligibility for loan forgiveness.”  See, e.g., First Interim Rule, Business Loan Program Temporary Changes; Paycheck Protection Program, 85 FR 20811, April 15, 2020; Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Information Sheet Lenders, March 31, 2020.  But given the highly chaotic environment in which PPP loans were processed, it is likely that many lenders made mistakes similar to Prosperity Bank’s and could find themselves accused of having relied on certifications that they knew or should have known to be untrue—which could potentially cross the line from negligence to reckless disregard, the FCA’s most basic scienter standard.  And the September 14, 2022 announcement of three DOJ “Strike Force” teams is a reminder that DOJ’s enforcement actions in this space are only getting started.

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Photo of Stephen M. Byers Stephen M. Byers

Stephen M. Byers is a partner in the firm’s White Collar & Regulatory Enforcement Group and serves on the group’s steering committee. He is also a member of the firm’s Government Contracts Group and E-Discovery & Information Management Group. Mr. Byers’s practice involves…

Stephen M. Byers is a partner in the firm’s White Collar & Regulatory Enforcement Group and serves on the group’s steering committee. He is also a member of the firm’s Government Contracts Group and E-Discovery & Information Management Group. Mr. Byers’s practice involves counseling and representation of corporate and individual clients in all phases of white collar criminal and related civil matters, including: internal corporate investigations; federal grand jury, inspector general, civil enforcement and congressional investigations; and trials and appeals.

Mr. Byers’s practice focuses on matters involving procurement fraud, health care fraud and abuse, trade secrets theft, foreign bribery, computer crimes and cybersecurity, and antitrust conspiracies. He has extensive experience with the federal False Claims Act and qui tam litigation, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Economic Espionage Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In addition to defense of government investigations and prosecutions, Mr. Byers has represented corporate victims of trade secrets theft, cybercrime, and other offenses. For example, he represented a Fortune 100 U.S. company in parallel civil and criminal proceedings that resulted in a $275 million criminal restitution order against a foreign competitor upon its conviction for trade secrets theft.

Photo of Brian Tully McLaughlin Brian Tully McLaughlin

Brian Tully McLaughlin is a partner in the Government Contracts Group in Washington, D.C. and co-chair of the False Claims Act Practice. Tully’s practice focuses on False Claims Act investigations and litigation, particularly trial and appellate work, as well as litigation of a…

Brian Tully McLaughlin is a partner in the Government Contracts Group in Washington, D.C. and co-chair of the False Claims Act Practice. Tully’s practice focuses on False Claims Act investigations and litigation, particularly trial and appellate work, as well as litigation of a variety of complex claims, disputes, and recovery matters. Tully’s False Claims Act experience spans procurement fraud, healthcare fraud, defense industry fraud, and more. He conducts internal investigations and represents clients in government investigations who are facing fraud or False Claims Act allegations. Tully has successfully litigated False Claims Act cases through trial and appeal, both those brought by whistleblowers / qui tam relators and the Department of Justice alike. He also focuses on affirmative claims recovery matters, analyzing potential claims and changes, counseling clients, and representing government contractors, including subcontractors, in claims and disputes proceedings before administrative boards of contract appeals and the Court of Federal Claims, as well as in international arbitration. His claims recovery experience includes unprecedented damages and fee awards. Tully has appeared and tried cases before judges and juries in federal district courts, state courts, and administrative boards of contract appeals, and he has argued successful appeals before the D.C. Circuit, the Federal Circuit, and the Fourth and Seventh Circuits.

Photo of Amy Laderberg O'Sullivan Amy Laderberg O'Sullivan

Amy Laderberg O’Sullivan is a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, a member of the Steering Committee for the firm’s Government Contracts Group, and former chair of the firm’s Diversity Council. Her practice involves a mix of litigation, transactional work, investigations, and

Amy Laderberg O’Sullivan is a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, a member of the Steering Committee for the firm’s Government Contracts Group, and former chair of the firm’s Diversity Council. Her practice involves a mix of litigation, transactional work, investigations, and counseling for corporate clients of all sizes and levels of experience as government contractors. On the litigation side, she has represented corporate clients in bid protests (agency level, GAO, ODRA, Court of Federal Claims, Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, as well as state and local bid protests in numerous jurisdictions), size and status protests before the U.S. Small Business Administration, claims litigation before the various Boards of Contract Appeals, Defense Base Act claims litigation at the Administrative Law Judge and Benefits Review Board levels, civil and criminal investigations, and she has been involved in complex commercial litigation.

Photo of Olivia Lynch Olivia Lynch

Olivia L. Lynch is a partner in Crowell & Moring’s Government Contracts Group in the Washington, D.C. office.

General Government Contracts Counseling. Olivia advises government contractors on navigating the procurement process, compliance and ethics, commercial item contracting, accessibility, supply chain assurance, and…

Olivia L. Lynch is a partner in Crowell & Moring’s Government Contracts Group in the Washington, D.C. office.

General Government Contracts Counseling. Olivia advises government contractors on navigating the procurement process, compliance and ethics, commercial item contracting, accessibility, supply chain assurance, and various aspects of state and local procurement law.

Photo of Zachary Schroeder Zachary Schroeder

Zachary Schroeder is an associate in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office, where he practices in the Government Contracts Group.

Zach represents contractors in both litigation and counseling matters. His practice focuses on representing contractors in bid protests before the Government Accountability Office…

Zachary Schroeder is an associate in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office, where he practices in the Government Contracts Group.

Zach represents contractors in both litigation and counseling matters. His practice focuses on representing contractors in bid protests before the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Dispute Resolution for Acquisition (ODRA). His practice also includes federal regulatory and ethics compliance, as well as various aspects of state and local procurement law, including representing contractors in size protests and affiliation matters. In the transactional context, Zach has performed government contracts diligence for government contractors in a range of industries.