The owner of multiple Springfield restaurants has been accused by the government of fraudulently using Paycheck Protection Program money for home improvement projects.
John Michael Felts − whose restaurants include Bourbon & Beale, Hot Cluckers and Taco Habitat − is accused in a lawsuit filed last week by the federal government of using the loan money, obtained under more than a dozen different identities and companies, to purchase and improve other properties. Federal officials have not filed criminal charges but are asking for forfeiture of four properties in Greene County.
Records show that Felts applied for around a dozen PPP loans using several different companies, most of which "did not have employees and were not in operation at the time of application," according to court documents. He also applied for around 13 loans using "synthesized or fabricated identities." The alleged improvements done with the loan money were not eligible or authorized under the terms of the program, which was meant to aid business-owners in continuing employee paychecks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Felts has allegedly used upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars in total to finance improvements on several properties both directly and indirectly, according to federal officials.
In one case, the April 2020 PPP application for Diagnostic Equipment Inc., filed by a "Peter Gollan," said that it had 55 employees and an average monthly payroll of $330,000. Officials claim that was "falsely represented." Loan proceeds of more than $869,000 were allegedly later deposited under the company's name. Another application, for White River Brewco, "falsely represented that the business had 19 employees and an average monthly payroll of $360,500." A later deposit at the Central Bank of the Ozarks totaled just over $900,000.
Felts' attorney, Abe McGull, provided a statement to the News-Leader.
"On September 13, 2022, members of the Internal Revenue Service executed search warrants for information and items concerning Mr. Michael Felts business dealings with an individual out of San Antonio, Texas," McGull said. "Mr. Felts has retained legal counsel to handle this matter and cannot comment further concerning this investigation."
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on if criminal charges would be pursued in the case.
More than 10,500 PPP loans were approved in Greene County during the pandemic, totaling $769 million. Of those loans, almost 10,000 worth $742 million were forgiven. Federal officials over the last two years have aimed to track prominent cases of fraud involving the loan money.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Feds accuse Springfield restaurateur of using PPP loan for renovations