Large churches, elite law firms and private schools get COVID loans

Some of Palm Beach County’s largest churches, elite law firms, and private schools have been approved for millions of dollars in federal aid under a loan program designed to help struggling businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, while beloved local charities and restaurants mainly clamored for six-figure loans, according to recently released data from the Small Business Administration.

Congress created the Paycheque Protection Program to help small businesses stay afloat and keep employees on the payroll during the coronavirus pandemic. Details of the $ 660 billion aid package recently released in response to pressure from Congress and the media reveal approved loans for affluent, well-connected businesses in Palm Beach County.

The identities of companies approved for less than $ 150,000 have not been made public. Employers approved for amounts over $ 150,000 and up to $ 10 million have been named.

The data does not reveal actual loan amounts, but rather provides a range approved by lenders. In some cases, companies have taken out smaller loans than those approved by lenders.

The loans were available to employers with fewer than 500 employees who could demonstrate economic harm due to the coronavirus-related business shutdown. Employers were also required to say how many jobs the loans would save.

In Florida, 393,028 loans totaling $ 32 billion saved 3.2 million jobs as of June 30, according to the SBA. Overall, 96% of the state’s estimated small business payroll was covered by PPP loans – the highest in the country, according to SBA data.

Only three other states received more money than Florida: California, New York and Texas. In Palm Beach County, loans of at least $ 150,000 have kept about 175,000 workers on the payroll.

The program came under heavy criticism when the loan pool dried up and documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that large national companies with thousands of employees had received millions in loans. .

These return loans included: Shake Shack, $ 10 million; Drive Shack $ 5.2 million; Fiesta Restaurant Group, owner and franchisor of Pollo Tropical and other fast food restaurants, $ 15 million; the Los Angeles Lakers, $ 4.6 million; and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse for $ 20 million, according to a list compiled by NBC News.

Law firms

In Palm Beach County, some of the largest loans have gone to some of the best-known and well-to-do law firms.

The Gunster law firm, with offices in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach, qualified for one of the largest loans, up to $ 10 million. The company’s customers include US Sugar, FPL, AT&T and Well Fargo, according to the company’s website. The loan was approved by one of Gunster’s own clients, the Capital City Bank.

Gunster did not respond to a request for comment. The amount of the loan and how the company used it is not known. According to SBA data, the loan helped Gunster retain 424 jobs.

Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, the law firm headed by leading litigator David Boies, has also been approved for a loan of up to $ 10 million. The company’s client list includes Facebook, the New York Yankees, Chevron and NASCAR.

Boise negotiated billion dollar settlements for American Express in antitrust lawsuits and is best known in Florida for his unsuccessful portrayal of former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in the legal battle over the election recount. November 2000.

Although the firm has 14 offices across the United States and in London, the application was filed using one of its smaller offices in Fort Lauderdale. A spokesperson for the company said the company does not comment on its financial statements. The loan helped the company retain 490 employees, according to data from the SBA.

The Jones foster West Palm Beach law firm has been approved for a loan of up to $ 2 million, which the firm says would help keep the jobs of 76 employees. When asked how much money the company had received and how it would be used, Lara Hillman, the company’s marketing director, said the company “preferred not to comment.”

Other local law firms that received loans of up to $ 2 million included the West Palm Beach law firms of Lewis, Longman and Walker, with five offices in Florida and Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath. Neither company responded to requests for comment.

Schools

Three of the county’s most expensive and exclusive private schools received the bulk of 47 loans to local private and church schools.

St. Andrews School in Boca Raton, Benjamin school in North Palm Beach and Oxbridge Academy – which was founded by Palm Beach billionaire Bill Koch – was eligible for loans up to $ 5 million.

The Benjamin School, attended by the children of golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Greg Norman, received a loan of $ 3.1 million, according to a statement released by the school.

The school is non-profit and employs 201 teachers and full-time staff. Tuition fees range from $ 18,150 for Kindergarten and Kindergarten to $ 31,550 for High School. The school currently has $ 16 million in savings and cash investments, according to its website.

“Due to COVID-19, the school’s finances have been significantly affected,” the statement said. “By taking this loan, the school was able to keep our teachers and staff employed during this time of uncertainty.”

Churches and denominational schools

Nationally, 88,411 faith groups received $ 7.3 billion in loans, saving 1 million jobs, according to the SBA. Local loans have been made to churches and schools representing various denominations

Mega-church Community of Christ received a loan of between $ 2 million and $ 5 million, according to the public relations firm that represents the church. The church refused to disclose the loan amount or how it was used. In its loan application, the church said the money would save the jobs of 448 employees.

SBA data showed Grace Fellowship, a church affiliated with the Berean Christian School, was eligible for a $ 10 million loan. However, a church employee said the church was not approved for this amount and only received a “small fraction” of that total. The actual amount the church received is not known.

Seven Catholic schools, including Cardinal Newman High School, Pope John Paul II and the Rosarian Academy, and three Catholic churches also received loans, as well as the Diocese of Palm Beach, which was approved for a loan of 2 millions of dollars.

Other churches, temples and synagogues that have received loans include Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach, where President Donald Trump attends services, Beth El Temple in Boca Raton, Torat Temple Emits at Boynton Beach, the Reformed Temple of Jupiter and Tequesta, and Emanu-el Temple in Palm Beach.

Non-profit associations

Traditionally, nonprofits have not been eligible to receive SBA-guaranteed small business loans, but PPP has enabled many nonprofits to access loans to support their employees.

The Lord’s Place, one of the county’s leading agencies providing services to the homeless, was able to retain 141 employees thanks to the $ 1.2 million PPP loan it received, CEO Diana Stanley said.

The pandemic has forced the group’s thrift store and restaurant businesses to close and with 20% of its staff former homeless customers at the center, Stanley said it was especially important to keep paychecks coming. .

“I don’t know what we would have done without it,” Stanley said. “We don’t want someone to work for us and suddenly show up at the front door for service. “

Other core community groups received much less. The Palm Beach County Food Bank, the Child Protection Team, Seagull Industries for the Disabled and COMPASS, an LGBTQ resource center in Lake Worth, have received loans of less than $ 350,000.

Big deal

Two well-known local media companies whose executives have ties to President Trump have also qualified for seven-figure loans. Newsmax, the conservative media empire founded by Christopher Ruddy, a member of Mar-a-Lago and friend of the president, received a loan of between $ 2 million and $ 5 million.

Three companies owned by American Media Inc., publisher of National Enquirer, Globe, Men’s Journal and Soap Opera Digest, have been approved for loans of up to $ 5 million. AMI editor David Pecker made headlines in 2018 for his role in a capture and kill operation to buy exclusive rights to stories that could embarrass longtime friend Trump .

Neither Newsmax nor AMI responded to requests for comment.

Two large construction companies in West Palm Beach also landed large loans. Both Kast Construction Company and Maschmeyer Concrete were eligible for loans of up to $ 10 million.

Maschmeyer’s CFO Randy Hough said the company does not comment on specific financial matters, but the loan allows the company to keep all of its 400+ employees working at full pay and benefits despite being put on hold. biggest project of the company.

The loan also allowed the company to pursue smaller projects that kept the contractors at work, Hough said.

“In many cases our team members have told us that they are the only ones in their family still working,” Hough said.

Restaurants

From gastronomy to lunch counters, restaurants have been particularly affected by the pandemic. Nearly 300 restaurants and companies with multiple restaurants have applied for loans in Palm Beach County.

Only one, Duffy’s Holdings, qualified for a $ 10 million loan. Five others received loans of up to $ 5 million. Overall, 62% received loans not exceeding $ 350,000.

The list receiving less than $ 350,000 includes Howley’s, the trendy West Palm Beach restaurant that served thousands of free meals to jobless restaurant workers, even though its own doors were closed.

Buccan in Palm Beach, another notable restaurant that prepared and packaged more than 75,000 meals for social service agencies at the start of the pandemic, qualified for a $ 1 million loan.

Data reporter Chris Persaud contributed to this story.

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