Update: This story has been updated with a response from Barrett-Jackson and to show the company received a $1 million to $2 million loan. A previous version of this story stated in error that the company received a loan in the $2 million to $5 million range.
The federal government sent as much as $1.5 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans to Scottsdale companies to help small businesses and avoid layoffs during the initial months of the COVID-19-fueled economic downturn.
But the Progress found some of that money went to businesses that had announced large layoffs and others with financial woes that predated the pandemic.
The Progress reviewed data released by the U.S. Small Business Administration last week that included some information on the 10,353 Scottsdale companies that received PPP loans.
Overall, more than 65,500 Arizona companies received between $6.5 billion and $12.4 billion from the PPP program, according to the Progress analysis.
Of that money, between $690 million and $1.5 billion went to businesses in Scottsdale.
The PPP loan funds – described by the SBA as “a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll” – are part of the $2 trillion pandemic relief package approved by Congress in March that also included other assistance to individuals, businesses and local and state governments.
The loans comprised the largest portion of the multi-aid effort, accounting for $670 billion, or 26 percent, of the total package. Another $120 billion has not been spent and the deadline for applying was recently extended to July 31.
Relenting to weeks of pressure by Congressional Democrats and government watchdogs, the SBA released more data than it had been providing on the program.
But the disclosure was less than complete as the SBA tried to strike what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called an “appropriate balance of providing the American people with transparency, while protecting sensitive payroll and personal income information of small businesses, sole proprietors, and independent contractors.”
On the one hand, the agency did not identify recipients of loans less than $150,000 but did list the value of each loan. So, the identities of 8,870 Scottsdale businesses that received less than $150,000 remain a secret.
The SBA did identify recipients of loans $150,000 and above – including 1,483 businesses in Scottsdale – but did not specify how much they received.
Instead, it put each recipient in one of five categories of loan ranges: $150,000-350,000, $350,000-1 million, $1-2 million, $2-5 million and $5-10 million.
Besides businesses, nonprofits, schools and other entities were eligible for PPP loans.
The data show that among the Scottsdale entities that received a loan between $350,000 and $1 million was a satirical anti-Hillary Clinton website that uses a portion of its earnings to support Republican political candidates.
The website, imabovethelaw.com, sells parody coupon books for $13.99 with titles like “Hillary Exception,” “Hillary’s Dirty Dozen” and “Motor Mouth Maxine – a reference to Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is depicted on the cover.
The site, started by culinary entrepreneur Randy Kaas, donates a portion of proceeds to “to the RNC, State Republican committees and a list of Conservative organizations,” according to the site.
It is unclear how support for the site fits into the stated goal of the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to give small businesses affected by the economic downturn funds to make payroll and avoid layoffs, though the anti-Clinton website apparently claimed it would retain 45 jobs with the money, the SBA data show.
A major goal of the PPP loan program was to avoid layoffs, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
According to the SBA data, businesses were able to retain over 1 million jobs in Arizona using that money.
In Scottsdale, the money helped retain over 100,500 jobs, according to the SBA data.
But not every business that accepted PPP loans reported that the money would be used to retain jobs.
Barrett-Jackson, the Scottsdale auto auction, received a loan of $1 million to $2 million dollars and an entity controlled by Scottsdale-based developer P.B. Bell received a loan of $2 million to $5 million, but both reported retaining zero jobs to the SBA.
However, a Barrett-Jackson spokesman contested those numbers.
Jason Rose, a spokesman for the company, said Barrett-Jackson "retained all 76 jobs during the PPP period despite its auctions in (Palm Beach, Flor.) and Connecticut being cancelled, major blows."
In total, 94 businesses reported retaining zero jobs with the money and another 84 did not provide any job information at all.
Overall, there seemed to be little connection between how many jobs were saved and how much money a company received.
For instance, call center DRS Services reported retaining 450 jobs and received a loan of $150,000 to $300,000 – about $330 to $770 for each job retained.
On the other end of the spectrum, The Little Gym reported retaining one job while receiving a loan worth $350,000 to $1 million.
Based on the data, it does appear smaller businesses received less money per job retained than larger companies.
On average, the 8,870 Scottsdale businesses that received less than $150,000 received about $4,600 per job they kept on the payroll.
The 1,483 businesses that received loans over $150,000 received an average of between $8,600 and $21,400 per job saved.
Some loans also went to hotels that announced mass layoffs anyway.
The W Scottsdale hotel received a PPP loan and later told the state it planned to layoff 128 employees via a WARN notice, a notification required by the Arizona state law.
The state requires most employers with over 100 employees to provide notice 60 days in advance of mass layoffs.
SW Hotels and Resorts WW LLC issued a WARN notice on June 3 that it would layoff employees at a business located at 7277 E. Camelback Road – the W hotel’s address.
A month earlier on April 30, 7277 Scottsdale Hotel LLC was approved for a PPP loan valued at between $1 million and $2 million. According to the SBA data, the business would be able to retain 130 jobs with the money.
But it’s unclear who actually got the money because at least two separate entities have interests in the hotel.
SW Hotels and Resorts WW LLC – the entity that supposedly laid off the workers – does not appear to exist, but that name could refer to Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide LLC, the Maryland-based entity that owns the W hotel brand.
Representatives for Marriot Hotels and Resorts, which owns Starwood, did not respond to a request for comment.
The PPP loan was not given to that business, which had reported the layoffs in April, but instead was given to 7277 Scottsdale Hotel LLC – which shares a Scottsdale address with Stockdale Capital Partners and Spellbound Entertainment, the companies owned by Shawn and Steven Yari, who developed the hotel and own the property.
Dennis Harris, CFO and general counsel for Stockdale Capital Partners, did not respond to a request for comment.
Yari-owned companies received two other PPP loans with a total value between $1.3 million and $3 million.
The Embassy Suites Scottsdale resort’s WARN notice on April 30 said it would lay off 110 employees.
But the hotel was able to bring back some employees after it received a PPP loan.
The same day, an entity with the same address as the hotel that is owned by the developer was approved for a PPP loan of between $1 million and $2 million dollars.
On May 3, the hotel received a second PPP loan valued at $1 million to $2 million via a separate entity owned by Snyder Nationwide Real Estate, which developed the hotel.
“We did receive PPP money and were able to bring back a large portion of our employees as a result of receiving this funding,” said Mark Snyder, president of Snyder Nationwide Real Estate.
Snyder did not specify how many employees the hotel brought back, though the PPP data indicates 113 jobs were retained – more than the hotel indicated it was laying off in its WARN Notice.
A Progress analysis also found that one of the largest PPP loans in Scottsdale went to a company with a history of financial issues.
Childrens Learning Adventure, a nationwide preschool chain owned by siblings Richard and Cheryl Sodja, received a loan of between $5 million and $10 million.
The Sodjas are currently involved in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case filed in 2017 for a separate but related entity called CLA Properties SPE. They claimed between $1 million and $10 million in assets versus debt of $1 million to $10 million.
During the bankruptcy filing, several lawsuits have been filed against Children’s Learning Adventure alleging non-payment of millions of dollars in rent. The company denied the allegations in court filings.
PPP loans also went to a number of Scottsdale companies that have received recent infusions of cash prior to the pandemic.
Scottsdale Medical Imaging received a loan of $5 million to $10 million.
The company is a part of Radiology Partners, a national radiology practice that received a $700 million infusion from Starr Investment Holdings in July 2019.
Entities owned by Caliber, a real estate investment firm that specializes in developments Opportunity Zones, received two PPP loans worth a total between $500,000 and $1.4 million.
Caliber recently announced its first public offering on February and had raised around $600,000 as of May 12, according to a company press release.
In a February filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Caliber claimed $172,726,013 in assets.
Opportunity Zones are a tax incentive included in the 2017 tax cut that allows individuals to temporarily defer taxes on capital gains and avoid taxation on new gains if they invest capital gains in specific areas designated by the federal government.
In 2019, the Progress explored how loopholes in the law allowed for affluent communities like downtown Scottsdale to become Opportunity Zones.
Caliber, which is invested in these zones throughout the state, recently announced it will celebrate the grand opening next week of one of a dozen properties it owns in downtown Mesa with U.S. Sen. Martha McSally joining the virtual press conference.
Virtua Partners, another Scottsdale investment firm that specializes in Opportunity Zones and investments “for high net worth investors and institutions,” received a PPP loan for $2 million and $5 million.
Still, much of the money flowed to businesses in the sectors hardest hit by the downturn in Scottsdale, including tourist-reliant businesses like hotels and restaurants that have taken a significant hit during the pandemic.
The Scottsdale-based restaurants and groups that received loans included everything from the swanky new Nobu at Scottsdale Fashion Square to Wildflower Bread Company.
Nobu, co-founded by actor Robert DeNiro, received as much as $24 million from 14 different loans, according to CNBC.
Other Scottsdale restaurants and chains that received loans include Pita Jungle, Riot Hospitality, Zipps Sports Grill, Babbo Italian Eatery, Citizen Public House, and Barrio Queen, which received six loans under different LLCs controlled by ownership.
Though the loans were supposed to target small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, some borrowers circumvented that rule by applying under various corporations representing individual locations.
Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, which has around 50 locations nationwide, received 10 loans worth at least $5 million total using corporations representing restaurants in various states that all had the same Scottsdale address.
Brent Veach, a major Del Taco franchisee, also received at least $4 million in loans using six different LLCs.
Veach is the largest Del Taco franchisee and operates 50 restaurants in Arizona and Colorado, according to an article on Franchising.com published last year.
In addition to restaurants, other businesses that cater to tourists PPP funding.
Several Scottsdale area hotels received loans, including Hotel Adeline ($350,000 to $1 million), Scottsdale Plaza Resort ($2 million to $5 million) and the Omni Montelucia ($2 million to $5 million) in Paradise Valley.
Entertainment venues like Odysea ($1million to $2 million) and the Coyotes Ice Den hockey rinks (two loans worth up to $4 million) received loans.
A handful of golf courses also received loans, including McCormick Ranch Golf Club ($350,000 to $1 million), Silverado Golf Club ($100,000 to $350,000) and Starfire Golf Club ($350,000 to $1 million).
Beyond those businesses, loans in Scottsdale hit just about every industry, from doctor’s offices and law firms to ammunitions sellers.
But loans also went to some entities not usually considered small businesses.
A number of private and charter schools based out of Scottsdale received loans, including one that went out of business. Lexis Preparatory Academy received a loan of $150,000 to 350,000 but has closed its doors, according to the school’s website.
Private Notre Dame Prep also received a loan worth $1 to $2 million. Other private schools that received money include El Dorado Private School ($150,000 to $350,000); International School of Arizona ($350,000 to $1 million); Chrysalis Academy ($350,000 to $1 million); and Ville de Marie Academy ($150,000 to $350,000).
Several area charters based out of Scottsdale also received PPP loans, including Noah Webster ($350,000 to $1 million), Fit Kids Charter School ($350,000 to $1 million), Career Success Schools ($350,000 to $1 million) and Hirsch Academy ($150,000 to $350,000).
Local churches also received loans – as did some local art organizations that already receive taxpayer money via the city.
Among them were Scottsdale’s Museum of the West ($150,000 to $350,000) and Scottsdale Arts ($350,000 to $1 million). Both receive funding from the city.
Eleven Churches in Scottsdale also received loans totaling at least $2.5 million. Churches that received loans include Congregation Kol Ami, Impact Church, La Casa de Cristo Lutheran, Saint Bernadette, Saint Patrick, Mountain View Presbyterian, Gateway Church Scottsdale, Shepherd of the Desert Evangelical Lutheran, Pinnacle Presbyterian, New Covenant Lutheran and McDowell Mountain Community.
The SBA has advised that loans will be forgiven if the money is spent on payroll, mortgage interest, rent and utilities, but that at least 60 percent must go for payroll. "Forgiveness will be reduced if fulltime headcount declines or if salaires and wages decrease," it advises.