A Kennewick medical firm providing job-related care to workers at the Hanford cleanup site has agreed to pay $2.9 million to settle claims it improperly used federal coronavirus aid money.
HPM Corporation, which has held the occupational medicine services contract at the former nuclear weapons production plant in Benton County for a decade, applied for and received a $1.3 million loan from the federal government in April 2020 following passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Federal investigators allege that money sat in a bank account for more than a year, rather than being used to pay employees, rent or mortgage expenses, or utilities.
Grover Cleveland Mooers, one of the governors of the company, filed an application to have the loan forgiven per the terms of the legislation, which required 60% of the money loaned to be used for payroll. That request included false claims of how the money was spent, Special Agent Benjamin Wagar of the Department of Energy wrote in an affidavit filed Wednesday in federal court.
A message left with the company on Friday was not immediately returned.
The money was then transferred to the joint accounts of Grover Cleveland Mooers and Hollie Mooers, the president and chief executive officer of HPM.
The Mooerses made payments to charities out of that account, said one of the company’s employees, who is not named in the affidavit. The money was deposited with a financial management firm that was used “to disburse to the charities directly,” according to documents reviewed by Wagar.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Washington announced the terms of a settlement agreement with HPM in a news release Thursday. According to the terms of that agreement, the Mooerses must pay penalties within 90 days, and the money paid to charities may not be written off as a tax deduction.
“COVID relief funding is a precious and limited resource,” Vanessa Waldref, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, said in a statement announcing the settlement. “These funds were intended to help small and local businesses and keep the communities of Eastern Washington safe and strong.”
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is administered by the Small Business Administration, which reports that a total of more than 195,000 Washington companies received $18.3 billion in payments. Waldref’s office has announced a COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force made up of multiple agencies intended to investigate and prosecute instances of attempted theft of relief money.
While the money from the PPP loan sat in HPM’s accounts, it was awarded modifications to its initial contract, signed in 2018, to provide coronavirus testing services and other pandemic-related aid to workers at the site, according to the affidavit. A contract modification signed March 9 by the Department of Energy, which is overseeing the Hanford cleanup, increased the total amount paid to HPM to $151 million. The contract expires at the end of 2023.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office reported the settlement agreement requires Grover Cleveland Mooers to step down from his position as a governor of the company by Friday. The Mooerses must also pay a $250,000 civil penalty. HPM will also have to hire an independent auditor to oversee its finances, and will be on a three-year probationary period.