ATLANTA — Businesses across the metro that applied for the government’s payment protection plan to help keep their workers on the payroll during the coronavirus pandemic say the program has been a lifesaver.
But a local business owner said just as she was starting to spend the money from the PPP loan, the bank took most of the money back.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray has gone round and round with the bank for the last couple of weeks trying to get some sort of answer and explanation for why it took the money back.
“My troubles started after my loan was approved and funded,” Valerie Bseibess said.
Bseibess said it was an answered prayer when the $99,000 Small Business Administration paycheck protection program loan was deposited in her bank account.
The money helped her pay employees and keep her Marietta bakery and pet treat wholesale business, Black Horse Enterprises, going.
“It was a huge godsend, and I called my employees back in,” Bseibess said.
She told Gray that it was after the federal loan money was in her hands and in her bank account that things got strange.
“I saw that there was a huge transaction for $87,500 coming out of the total loan,” Bseibess said.
Her bank, Bank OZK, took that $87,500 back, telling her that her tax ID number was wrong.
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But when she provided proof that her IRS information was correct, she said Bank OZK would not give back the money.
“I had rehired my employees, and they quit because I went to pay them last Friday, and I can’t pay them because I don’t have the money,” Bseibess said through tears, getting emotional about what had happened.
Gray has been trying for the last two weeks to get answers from Bank OZK, and all it would tell him on the record was:
“Bank OZK adheres to all bank regulations as well as guidelines for the Paycheck Protection Program as set by the Small Business Administration. Our procedures around the PPP include a post-closing quality control review to ensure that all loans have met the SBA’s current guidelines, as well as banking regulatory requirements.”
“That statement is such bank gobbley-gook it means nothing to anybody. It isn’t specific to the situation with her borrowing this money and is disrespectful and mean-spirited,” said Channel 2 consumer adviser Clark Howard.
Bseibess has called the Clark Howard Consumer Action Center looking for advice.
Howard said Bseibess might have to hire a lawyer to get the bank to provide a reason for its actions.
“It is unreal how arrogant banks are and how banks behave,” Howard said.
This is not the only controversial behavior Bank OZK is alleged to have engaged in with the PPP program.
“When there’s this much money at play, there’s a lot of money running through the banks, and they are going to keep whatever they can,” attorney Jim McDonough said.
McDonough has filed a lawsuit against Bank OZK and several other banks for not complying with the terms of the CARES Act, the coronavirus relief bill that aims to help businesses and workers affected by the pandemic.
The suit alleges the bank is refusing to pay the agents who helped people file for the PPP loans.
The CARES Act paid banks extra money just to cover those agents' costs.
An Alpharetta CPA firm, Charles E. Saul, applied for PPP loans as an agent on behalf of more than 100 of its clients.
“I really don’t have the words to express how frustrating it is,” said Darrell Salvia with Charles E. Saul PC.
In the vast majority of those loans, recipients of the loans tell Channel 2 Action News that the banks are now refusing to pay a dime.
“If you were to quantify the hours, you are looking at three to four weeks of time just spent on the PPP loan itself for all those clients,” Salvia said.
As for Black Horse Enterprises, Gray checked its business license, and it's in good standing with the secretary of state.
The company also provided Gray with its 2018 tax returns that show hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and expenses in line with the $99,000 loan.
Gray contacted the SBA, who would not comment on this story.
“Now I’m left on the verge of closing my business,” Bseibess said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m on the hook for a loan that I haven’t been forgiven for.”
Howard’s advice for those people who have taken out PPP loans is they should never leave the money deposited with that bank. He said to move the money to another account at another bank to protect it from this kind of situation.
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