U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has called on the U.S. Small Business Administration to investigate a suspicious federal emergency relief loan to an alleged organic farm in Maine.

The business, Common Ground Organic Farm LLC, with a Bridgton address, received a $1.2 million loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to a mass disclosure of loan recipient data released by the SBA last week. Pingree asked SBA to investigate following reporting by the Portland Press Herald about inconsistencies with the company’s loan.

The company reported 91 employees, a large operation by Maine farm standards, but no one in the area or the state’s organic agricultural community has heard of it, Pingree, herself an organic farmer, said in a letter sent Wednesday to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza.

“This issue has been brought to my attention by members of Maine’s close-knit organic farming community – none of whom are able to identify a farm by this name, or in this location, which would be extremely large compared to the standards of organic farms in Maine,” Pingree said.

No company named Common Ground Organic Farm LLC is registered in Maine, and its listed business address is the offices of a local insurance company. The lender on the application, Kennebunk Savings Bank, denies it processed the loan.

“As the agency works to identify and address suspected cases of fraud in the PPP program, I respectfully request that you give this case prompt attention,” Pingree said.

The pandemic has disrupted markets and organic certification and inspection, and some farmers have had trouble accessing federal pandemic relief programs from SBA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she added.

“An expedient investigation into the loan awarded to ‘Common Ground Organic Farm,’ even if it is determined to be properly awarded to a legitimate farming company, would provide reassurance to this economic sector as Congress contemplates the next COVID package that is likely to include a second round of PPP loans,” she said.

The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, is credited with supporting millions of jobs across the country, including about 250,000 in Maine, during the height of economic panic and pandemic lockdowns this spring. About $525 billion in loans was provided to companies employing up to 500 workers each. Maine employers received more than $2.2 billion in PPP loans.

The program was devised to get forgivable loans of up to $10 million into the hands of employers fast. That meant compromising traditional lending safeguards and running the risk of misuse. The SBA’s inspector general and the U.S. Government Accountability Office both reported the program was vulnerable to fraud.

An October staff report from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said it identified more than 22,500 PPP loans worth more than $4 billion that may have been subject to fraud.

The SBA’s Office of Inspector General, which provides independent oversight of the agency, declined to answer whether the Common Ground Organic Farm loan is under investigation or offer a plausible explanation for inconsistencies in the loan data.

“As a practice, we do not confirm or deny investigative activity,” said Sheldon Shoemaker, assistant inspector general for management and operations. Shoemaker referred questions about the loan data to the SBA.

He also declined to say how many reports of PPP loan fraud his office had received from Maine.

“Sorry, we do not have that data readily available,” Shoemaker said.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.