JPMorgan probing alleged misuse of PPP funds by employees, memo shows

(Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co is investigating employees who may have been involved in the misuse of federal funds meant to help small businesses and other customers hurt by COVID-19 shutdowns, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: A view of the exterior of the JP Morgan Chase & Co. corporate headquarters in New York City May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Files

The bank said it had found cases of customers “misusing Paycheck Protection Program loans, unemployment benefits and other government programs,” according to the memo, which was verified by a bank spokeswoman.

“Some employees have fallen short, too,” according to the memo, which was sent to staff by the bank’s top operating committee. “We are doing all we can to identify those instances, and cooperate with law enforcement where appropriate.”

The JPMorgan memo is one of the first signs that lenders and their staffs may be swept up in federal efforts to police pandemic-related aid programs. In May, Reuters reported that the U.S. Justice Department had subpoenaed Wall Street banks to seek records on PPP lending as it kicked off its enforcement efforts, but it was unclear if the banks themselves were targets at the time here.

A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. lawmakers and independent watchdogs have in recent weeks warned of widespread abuse and fraud in the PPP, a $659 billion program under which banks dished out government-backed funds to small business borrowers hurt by pandemic shutdowns.

Just last week, a key congressional panel said it had identified tens of thousands of PPP loans worth billions of dollars that may have been subject to fraud, waste and abuse, including by companies that were ineligible or that broke the rules by taking more than one loan.

The Small Business Administration, which administered the PPP, said in July that JPMorgan was the largest lender to the program by loan value, dishing out 270,000 loans worth nearly $30 billion.

The SBA has also warned of “strong indicators of widespread potential fraud” in its economic disaster loan program.

The Justice Department has already brought multiple criminal actions against individuals for allegedly stealing federal aid, including to fund lavish lifestyles.

Reporting by C Nivedita in Bengaluru, Elizabeth Dilts in New York and Michelle Price in Washington D.C.; Editing by Bernard Orr, Rosalba O’Brien and Paul Simao