BRIDGTON, Maine — A Paycheck Protection Program loan for nearly $1.2 million issued to an organic farm operator allegedly located in western Maine has raised suspicion after a massive disclosure of federal records about the small business relief program.
According to records released by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Common Ground Organic Farm LLC, based in Bridgton, received the loan. The records show the company claimed to have 91 employees.
There is no company by that name registered in Maine and the local insurance firm that owns and operates the business address used by Common Grounds said it has never heard of the company, the Portland Press Herald reported.
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The loan raised suspicion when it was discovered in a database of Maine companies that received loans larger than $150,000. Members of the Maine organic farming community noticed the large staff and its address that corresponded to an office building far from the regions best known for large-scale agriculture.
An SBA spokesperson said that the agency could not provide any additional details regarding the reported loan.
“The agency isn’t able to provide a timeframe on the resolution of many identity theft complaints,” SBA spokesperson Elizabeth Moisuk said in response to an email. “Evidence of waste, fraud and abuse with any of SBA’s loan programs is not tolerated and should be reported.”
A small business in DeLand, Florida, was found in an online search that was formerly called Common Ground Organic Farm LLC.
In a phone interview with the newspaper, that business’ co-owner, Pat Joslin, said that she and her husband not only dropped “organic” from the company name in 2011, but her company is not eligible for PPP because of the way they do their taxes.
Joslin said that the couple runs the farm themselves, does not have full-time employees and does not have any substantial debt.
“We couldn’t have even applied,” she said. “There is no way — I do not have payroll.”
The couple received a notice from the SBA last month indicating that starting next September the farm would need to start repaying $730 per month on its loan.
“We have never as a farm taken a loan on anything,” Joslin said. “We have been here 12 years, then we get this. We went, ‘Holy crap.’ “
The couple immediately contacted the SBA and are awaiting a response.