Nearly 51,000 Utah businesses shared more than $5 billion in paycheck loans

Washington • From the Blue Boutique to the Girl Scouts of Utah. From the Park City bar at the center of the first coronavirus outbreak in the state to the company that sold Utah — then refunded — $800,000 in controversial malaria medicine that President Donald Trump promoted as a wonder drug against the disease.

From small-town coal haulers to major ski resorts to law firms and businesses of the well-connected.

More than 50,000 Utah businesses, nonprofits and social groups shared in more than $5 billion in federal aid during the pandemic, according to new data released by the Treasury Department on Monday. The money helped keep nearly 800,000 Utahns employed, Treasury said.

The government for the first time identified what businesses received large loans from a program aimed at stemming layoffs and keeping shops afloat during the pandemic outbreak, and the list reads like a who’s who of Utah’s big businesses mixed with mom-and-pop shops, high-interest loan providers, arts groups and burger and pizza joints.

A smorgasbord of companies sought — and received — funds in the state.

Alta and Brighton ski resorts each got up to $2 million from the program while the Ken Garff Automotive Group shared upwards of $10 million among five different entities. Bob Garff, a former House speaker and the longtime chairman of that auto dealership group, was one of the first Utahns to die of COVID-19.

Barney Trucking of Salina accepted up to $10 million for its coal hauling business. And Nature's Sunshine of Lehi took between $5 million and $10 million, according to the Treasury Department, which released the names of businesses that took more than $150,000 from the program. The amount of money each recipient got is listed in broad categories of amounts.

The Treasury reports that Planned Parenthood of Utah received upwards of $2 million from the program, though officials there say they returned the money after complaints by 127 Republican members of Congress, including Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney of Utah, that the reproductive health provider, which also offers abortion services, shouldn’t get any federal funds.

“We returned the loan when it became clear that Planned Parenthood affiliates were to become another target of political attacks for applying for these loans,” said Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of the group’s Utah chapter. “We do not have time to play politics during a global pandemic.”

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance accepted between $350,000 and $1 million, Treasury said.

“The PPP loan allowed us to keep all of our staff fully employed during this time of economic uncertainty, including seven positions in southern Utah,” said Scott Groene, executive director of the group.

Allison Braver, a former Olympic speed skater and model, took up to $10 million from the program for her entertainment business that she reported saved 430 jobs in the state. Braver said in an email that there are several projects her Utah-based business is developing but have yet to announce.

“Each of these projects account for a substantial number of employees,” she said. “Due to the need for large crews in close proximity, these types of productions have been particularly disrupted by the pandemic, and we recognize our responsibility to put these professionals back to work as soon and as safely as possible.”

Fierce Firearms, which makes custom hunting rifles, accepted up to $350,000 from the program while SilencerCo, a West Valley City company that advocates for lifting restrictions on silencers for weapons, took up to $2 million.

Two Utah County businesses — which county officials said were responsible for COVID-19 infections in at least 68 people — also received PPP money. Built Brands in American Fork got up to $2 million while Wasatch Truss in Spanish Fork got the same, the federal data show.

The Trump administration initially said it would not release the names of businesses that participated in the paycheck program, though relented after criticism by Democrats in Congress that hundreds of billions of dollars were being spent without any transparency. The Treasury Department also released a generic list of recipients that took less than $150,000 but only by city and amount, not by name.

Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, had called for the Treasury to disclose PPP recipients and called Monday’s action a move in the right direction.

“My concerns have always been that those who need and deserve these loans receive them and that taxpayers are able to see where their tax dollars are being spent during the COVID-19 economic response,” McAdams said Monday. “Today’s list covers more than 70 percent of the loan amounts, which is a good start. Taxpayers deserve a full accounting for how we spend their tax dollars.”

The PPP loans are, for the most part, forgivable if employers keep their payroll going during the duration of the program. Treasury said Monday that Utah-based Zions Bank was one of the top 10 lenders in the nation to provide PPP loans.

Many nonprofits in the state took advantage of the program, including The Road Home, Volunteers of America and Odyssey House — all getting between $2 million and $5 million. The Utah Symphony and Opera took up to $5 million and Ballet West between $1 million and $2 million.

The Utah Zoological Society, which runs Hogle Zoo, took between $1 million and $2 million, Tracy Aviary up to $1 million, Discovery Gateway up to $350,000 and The Leonardo the same.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City also took part in the program, receiving a series of loans of up to $350,000 each.

The nonprofit Salt Lake Tribune accepted $854,800 in federal funds facilitated through Zions Bank, the paper announced in April.

The list of Utah businesses that took loans runs the gamut, including some run by well-connected people in the political world.

Leavitt Partners, run by former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, got up to $5 million, and House Speaker Brad Wilson’s Destination Homes recieved up to $1 million.

The adult shop Blue Boutique received up to $350,000.

The Spur Bar & Grill in Park City, where a doorman tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March, marking the first community spread of the disease in Utah, got up to $1 million under the program.

St. George’s Squatty Potty, which got its start off a good pitch on CNBC’s Shark Tank, got up to $350,000 as well.

Tosh Inc., which runs the payday loan company Check City, received up to $5 million. PPP loans, which come with a 1% interest rate, do not require any assets as a guarantee.

— Columnist Robert Gehrke and editor Dan Harrie contributed to this report.