Somerset County businesses have received millions in COVID PPP loans

Led by Wilson Creek Energy, a subsidiary of Corsa Coal Corp., Somerset County businesses have received about $135 million in taxpayer-funded loans in recent years.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, the federal government has distributed nearly $800 billion in Payment Protection Program loans to businesses across the country. A total of 1,660 of these loans have been made to Somerset County.

Of those 1,660 loans, more than 1,500 worth about $118 million have been forgiven, according to the Federal Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

The industries that received the most loan funding were manufacturing ($26.2 million); health care ($13.7 million); construction ($13.3 million); transportation ($12.1 million); retail ($11.1 million) and mining ($10.2 million). Somerset County’s top recipients were Wilson Creek Energy ($8.2 million), Highland Tank ($6.154 million), and Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center in Windber ($4.943 million).

Each of these three main beneficiaries had their loans cancelled.

Other local loans of over $1 million went to Legacy Truck Centers ($2.2 million); Maak Family LLC ($1.7 million); Allegheny Christian Ministries ($1.7 million); Community Health Care Operator ($1.2 million); Keystone Lime Co. ($1.2 million); Beeghley Treet LLC ($1.1 million); Somerset Care ($1.1 million) and Guy Chemical ($1 million).

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How to Cancel a PPP Loan

To qualify for PPP loan forgiveness, the borrower had to use at least 60% of the loan for payroll, according to the Small Business Administration. Borrowers were also required to submit various forms and apply for forgiveness.

Qualifying non-salary expenses can include utilities, rent, property damage and more.

Wilson Creek Energy

Corsa Coal’s acting chief financial officer, Dan Bonacci, said Paycheck Protection Program loans to Wilson Creek Energy were key to maintaining employment during a downturn in 2020.

The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to help businesses retain their workforce amid the COVID-19 pandemic by offering loans backed by the US Small Business Administration. These loans were fully forgiven for companies that met criteria such as maintaining employee and compensation levels and using at least 60% of funding for payroll.

In the first quarter of 2020, Wilson Creek Energy had about 420 employees, according to Bonacci. They have fallen to 340 employees, but are now hiring.

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“Initially we (closed),” Bonacci said. “The governor’s shutdown orders did not include us as an approved and necessary business.

“After a few days, they worked and reassessed the list, adding coal mining to it. Supply chains depend on it. … This (PPP loan) was essential for us. It was necessary for us to survive. and keep as many minors employed as we could.”

In addition to payroll expenses, Wilson Creek also used PPP funds for rent, leases and other things.

“We received a full forgiveness last summer on both loans,” Bonacci said. “It was also good for us, showing that we received the funds and used them appropriately.”

The loans were made to Wilson Creek at a time when executives of its parent company, Corsa, were under investigation by the United States Department of Justice.

Federal prosecutors say two former executives violated the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 by paying a co-conspirator millions of dollars to bribe Al Nasr officials for Coke and Chemicals, a branch of the Egyptian state. One of these former leaders of Corsa is also accused of having made bribes thanks to this plot.

Carol R. Wilkerson, press director for the US Small Business Administration, declined to comment on Wilson Creek’s use of taxpayer money, citing a policy against discussing specific individual loans.

“If a PPP loan has been cancelled, the loan is repaid in full, canceled by the lender and there is no further obligation. The (Small Business Administration) has the power to review a PPP loan at any time, and when fraud is suspected, the SBA and the Biden-Harris administration work closely with the Inspector General to identify and address cases of fraud, waste, and abuse, including referrals to law enforcement , if any,” Wilkerson said.

“(Our) work to improve fraud controls in pandemic programs has been recognized by federal accountability agencies and oversight bodies.”

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Highland Reservoir

Highland Tank and Manufacturing, a steel tank manufacturing company with eight sites, received at least $6.1 million in government funds.

John Jacob, the company’s vice president, declined to comment.

“As a private company, Highland Tank does not comment publicly on financial matters,” he said in an email.

According to a 2019 Forbes article, Highland Tank had around 400 employees in 2019. Its revenue was around $60 million between 2009 and 2011.

In January, Highland Tank acquired Boyne Corp. to manufacture specialized control panels in Friedens.

Federalpay.org, a public information website for government payroll, reports that more than 400 jobs have been saved through the Highland Tank PPP loan.

“In order to qualify for the PPP loan amount received, Highland Tank LLC’s 2019 payroll expense is estimated to be at least $29.2 (million),” the website states. “Based on their 438 jobs retained, this equates to an estimated average annual compensation of $66,662 per employee.”

The average annual compensation estimate is based on the standard PPP calculation of 2.5 times the average monthly salary costs of 2019.

Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center in Windber

Windber’s Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center received the county’s third-highest PPP loan amount, securing at least $4.9 million.

Several calls and emails to medical center staff were not returned. According to its website, the hospital is Somerset County’s fourth largest employer with 450 employees.

The 54-bed hospital was founded in 1905 by Berwind-White Coal Mining Co. president Edward Berwind. In 2016, billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the hospital and renamed it for his wife and himself.

According to federalpay.org, 490 jobs were retained, with a salary estimate of $47,789 per employee, based on application forms.

In its P3 application, the hospital indicated that approximately $4.8 million in P3 funds would be used for payroll.

“In order to qualify for the PPP loan amount received, Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center’s salary expenditures in 2019 are estimated to be at least $23.42 (million),” Federal Pay said.

Nationally, hospitals received more than $3.5 billion in PPP loans, or less than 1% of the total amount distributed, according to Federal Pay.

Other Somerset County PPP Loans

The top franchise loans were Tri-Star Ford (two loans totaling $761,000); Memorial Highway Chevy ($514,600); Bittner North Restaurant ($350,200); Laurel Ford Inc. (two loans totaling $667,400); Bittner PH LLC ($312,200); BJ Maurer Motor Co. (two loans totaling $523,000); Tri-Star Chrysler Somerset ($196,500); Stoner Quality Water Inc. ($140,400); R&W Motel of Somerset (two loans totaling $171,100), Somerset Donuts ($95,100) and Woy Brothers ($71,400).

Across Pennsylvania, 342,490 loans have been issued for $30.5 billion. So far, 275,200 have been pardoned, amounting to $26 billion.

And across the country, 11.47 million loans have been granted, amounting to $792.6 billion. According to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, 3.3 million jobs have been saved thanks to these loans.

The committee said that in Somerset County, 17,700 jobs were retained. About $134.4 million in loans were used for payroll, $614,454 for utilities, $210,956 for rent, $107,519 for health care and $82,219 for mortgage interest.

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