A substantial Paycheck Protection Program loan to an organic farm operator allegedly located in western Maine has raised suspicion since it was discovered in a massive disclosure of federal records about the small business relief program.

Common Ground Organic Farm LLC, based in Bridgton, received a loan of nearly $1.2 million through the program, according to records released by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The company employed 91 people, according to the loan records.

But no such company is registered in Maine, and the local insurance firm that owns and occupies the business address listed for Common Ground in the SBA records said it has never heard of a business by that name. The bank listed as the lender on the emergency loan disclosure said it never made a loan to the company.

An SBA spokesman said the agency could not provide any further details on the reported loan. The agency’s own inspector general and the Government Accountability Office have warned that the Paycheck Protection Program is vulnerable to fraud.

The agency “does not comment on individual borrowers,” SBA spokeswoman Elizabeth Moisuk said in response to an email asking for an explanation of apparent inconsistencies in the company’s loan information.

The agency’s inspector general and its federal partners are working diligently to resolve fraudulent incidents in both the Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs, Moisuk said.


“The agency isn’t able to provide a timeframe on the resolution of many identity theft complaints,” she added. “Evidence of waste, fraud and abuse with any of SBA’s loan programs is not tolerated and should be reported.”

The loan raised eyebrows among some in Maine’s organic farming community when it was discovered in a database of Maine companies that received emergency loans larger than $150,000. The database accompanied a story published in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Some farmers noticed that the size of Common Ground’s workforce – larger than most Maine’s organic farms at nearly 100 workers – was curious. So was the business address, an office building in Bridgton far from regions best known for large-scale agriculture. Within Maine’s organic farming community, it would be unusual for a business of that size to operate without being well-known.

Then there was the size of the loan itself, $1.2 million. Eighteen of the biggest Paycheck Protection loans to Maine agricultural companies ranged between $150,000 and $839,000. The biggest, to Jasper Wyman and Son, a fruit and berry processor in Milbridge with more than 300 employees, neared $3 million. In those terms, the Common Ground loan was unusually large.

The number of employees the company allegedly employed would be on the high end for the vast majority of the farms belonging to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said Katy Green, the group’s spokeswoman.

“I can imagine there are some who may be at that level seasonally, or a processor here or there, but generally speaking that would be an outlier,” she said.


Green said the loan is not affiliated with the association, which organizes and hosts the annual Common Ground Country Fair in Unity.

The only certified organic farm with a similar name is Common Ground Farms LLC in Montana, according to a search of the Organic Integrity Database maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I’m guessing it might be a clerical error for that Montana farm or perhaps a business structure that has a registered agent or something of that nature here in Maine,” Green said.

An address listed on the loan disclosure says the company is located at 100 Main St. in Bridgton. But that building is solely owned and fully occupied by Chalmers Insurance Group. Kristine Karlsson, an IT manager for the insurance company and president of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, said she had never heard of a farm by that name. The only company called Common Ground that she knew of was a small coffee roaster that moved out of town years ago.

The lender listed on the loan, Kennebunk Savings Bank, said it did not loan the money to any business named Common Ground Organic Farm and would not have, since Bridgton is outside its customer area.

“I can only say Kennebunk Savings did not do this loan,” said Chris Kehl, senior commercial lender at the bank. Kehl referred further questions to the SBA and U.S. Treasury Department.


“Banks are strictly forbidden by law to discuss customer loan details or other personal information,” Kehl said.

The lender name may have been a typo, one of the errors in the massive trove of federal data. However, the similarly named Kennebec Savings Bank also said it did not make the loan, a spokesman said.

A small business in DeLand, Florida, is the top result in an online search for Common Ground Organic Farm LLC.

In a phone interview, that business’s co-owner, Pat Joslin, said she and her husband dropped “organic” from the name years ago because the farm was not certified organic. The farm follows all-organic practices but does not want to pay the fee it needs to get certified, she said.

The name was changed in 2011 to Common Ground Farm, according to Florida state records.

Joslin said the farm has no debt, let alone a substantial loan in Maine. The couple run the farm by themselves and have no full-time employees, she said. Because of the way they do their taxes, they were not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, Joslin added.


“We couldn’t have even applied,” she said. “There is no way – I do not have payroll.”

So it was a shock when the farm received a notice from the SBA last month that it would need to start repayment of about $730 a month on its Paycheck Protection loan next September, she said.

“We have never as a farm taken a loan on anything,” Joslin said. “We have been here 12 years, then we get this. We went, ‘Holy crap.’ ”

The couple contacted the SBA as soon as they received the loan notice, but they have not received a response. Moisuk, the SBA spokeswoman, said such a loan notice normally would come from a lender and not the agency itself.

In the meantime, Joslin said she and her husband have locked down their personal information and put out an alert to the various credit reporting agencies about a potential case of identity theft.

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