On June 15, 2020, Fort Bend County launched the $22 million Fort Bend County Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program to help vulnerable businesses get through the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides grants up to $10,000 to cover local businesses’ most immediate financial needs. The program is funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Fort Bend Small Business Grant Program is separate from the federal funding streams under the CARES Act, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and EIDL Loan Assistance.
Fort Bend County is committed to ensuring that these funds end up in the hands of those truly in need. They will investigate and prosecute individuals who they suspect are committing fraud. If you are under investigation for the alleged misappropriation of funds, you should immediately reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Misuse of Small Business Grant Funds in Fort Bend
The Fort Bend Small Business Grant Program places limitations on how the businesses can use the funds. Allowable expenditures include:
- Reopening supplies, equipment, and renovations;
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE);
- Lease and mortgage assistance;
- Remote working expenses;
- Inventory expenses; and
Grant recipients must keep itemized receipts and documentation for all expenditures related to the grant award. These records must be submitted to the county within three months of the disbursement of funds. If you fail to keep appropriate records or respond to an audit request, an investigation can be triggered.
Knowingly using Fort Bend County Business Emergency Assistance Grant funds for unallowable expenditures is illegal under Texas state law. You are not allowed to spend grant money on yourself rather than your business. It is not “free money,” and you will be held accountable for how you spent the grant funds.
Unintended Recipients of Small Business Grant Funds in Fort Bend
To be eligible to apply to the Fort Bend Small Business Grant Program, the small business must:
- Be located in Fort Bend County;
- Have an annual revenue between $25,000 and $5 million;
- Be a for-profit business;
- Have been in operation since February 15, 2020;
- Not have permanently closed;
- Have lost at least 25% of revenue as a direct result of COVID-19;
- Be in good standing with state and local taxes, fines, or other payments; and
- Employ between one and 50 full-time equivalent employees.
You are not allowed to receive funds if you do not fall into the above criteria. You are committing fraud if you are dishonest or not fully forthcoming in filling out a grant application. It is illegal to submit forged documents or use someone else’s stolen identity to receive grant funds. If your business’s circumstances change between the time of the application and the time it is approved, you must be forthright in reporting the change in circumstances.
Penalties for Small Business Grant Program Fraud in Fort Bend
The penalties for misappropriation of funds from a Fort Bend Small Business Grant will depend on your charges and the unique circumstances of your case. There is not one all-encompassing fraud charge under Texas state law. Chapter 32 of the Texas Penal Code listing several different types of fraud, including:
- 32.21. Forgery;
- 32.46. Securing Execution of Document by Deception;
- 32.47. Fraudulent Destruction, Removal, or Concealment of Writing;
- 32.51. Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information; and
- 32.53. The exploitation of a Child, Elderly Individual or Disabled Individual.
In general, the more funds that you take, the more severe your penalty will be. Punishment can range from a Class C misdemeanor and a fine of up to $500 all the way up to a first-degree felony. In Texas, a first-degree felony is punishable by five to 99 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. You may also be required to pay restitution and complete community service.
In addition to the criminal charges, a conviction can have life-changing consequences for your reputation in the community and your professional and educational future.
Your Sugar Land Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one is being investigated for Fort Bend Small Business Grant Program fraud, you should reach out to a Sugar Land criminal defense attorney experienced in fighting state fraud charges. Fraud cases can be very complicated, and it is critical to have a knowledgeable attorney on your side. Adam Capetillo is a Fort Bend County native who will protect your rights and provide a skilled and aggressive defense. Call Capetillo Law Firm today for a free consultation.