In the Know: As Congress considers more funding and auditors converge, what SWFL country clubs received approval for the most PPP money?

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

While Congress talks about a new Paycheck Protection Program as the coronavirus crisis enters 2021, fraud and waste have been issues with the initial $523 billion and related efforts.

Dozens of country clubs in Southwest Florida received approval for between $350,000 to $5 million in PPP.  Although authorities may find many or even all of those payouts to be legitimate, at least one has been sued by a resident over concerns the arrangement was improper.

At the same time, local Target Roofing company owner and president Casey Crowther is under federal indictment on allegations of a COVID-19 relief fund scam after acquiring $2 million and using a large part of it to snap up a 2020 catamaran.

Crowther, who does not dispute the purchase, calls it a misunderstanding as he faces a tentative trial date in January.

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Fort Myers roofing business owner Casey David Crowther is facing charges he falsely acquired $2 million in COVID-19 relief funds and used nearly $700,000 of it to buy a 2020 40-foot Invincible catamaran similar to the one shown here.

And then there's David T. Hines, who investigators say bought a Lamborghini Huracan sports car and went on a shopping spree through luxurious stores and resorts in Miami Beach after scoring $3.9 million in PPP.

Bill Herrle, executive director of the Florida branch of the National Federation of International Business, has said it was time to hold accountable folks who may have taken advantage.

“There is going to be a lot of reconciliation when the dust settles on this,” Herrle said recently. “It is very frustrating, especially when there were so many small businesses left standing at the curbside when the first tranche ran dry.”

The idea was for 30 million small businesses — with fewer than 500 employees — to have the opportunity to obtain forgivable and partially forgivable loans with the thinking they would pay workers during the pandemic.

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As part of pushing for the use of taxpayer money, the Trump administration wedged the door wide enough to allow others that perhaps the every day guy or gal wouldn't right away consider fitting the criteria, such as country clubs, which also employ staffs for numerous services.

Potential abuse is part of what led Naples resident Bill Verhelle to take legal action against Grey Oaks Country Club, which secured $2.9 million.

Verhelle lives in Grey Oaks, which has more than 1,000 members. In addition to other matters, he said the group's board violated a rule barring loans to private clubs that largely limit their memberships and that it exceeded its authority.

Golf memberships sell for $150,000, but the suit notes the club totaled more than $15 million in net losses combined in 2017, 2018 and 2019, prior to the outbreak.

The Grey Oaks board has said it didn't do anything wrong, noting in a statement that the government assistance allowed the return of 60 employees from furlough.

With Orlando's famed Bay Hill Country Club, the Grey Oaks amount was the largest in the state and near, if not the top in the U.S., among such organizations classified in documents as golf and country clubs, according to In the Know's review of thousands of beneficiaries.

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So far, the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against more than 80 people accused of stealing at least $127 million from the relief initiative. Crowther and Hines account for nearly 5% of that. 

The New York Times reports there's far more to uncover. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said it had identified more than $4 billion in potentially dubious deals.

A Small Business Administration fraud hotline that drew 742 complaints in 2019 has more than 100,000 this year. As auditors review how the money was spent, the feds can ask for it to be returned and penalties be imposed if they find misrepresentation.

Casey Crowther

Joshua Gerstin, a lawyer who specializes in homeowner and condominium association law, has said he expects one factor the SBA will consider is how much revenue a country club gets from its assessments.

“If it is mostly assessment driven, the country club might have a problem,” Gersten said. “If members continued to pay their assessments, there was no real loss of revenue. But if much of it comes from dining and other sources that members pay outside of their assessments, they could be eligible.”

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Nationally, a minimum of 1,527 applying entities in the golf and country clubs category were approved for PPP including 162 in Florida although public records don't show which may have accepted a lower sum or backed off. Out of that, the at least 41 in the region given the green light for more than $350,000 are in the data below.

For unknown reasons, groups tied to Pelican Bay, authorized for $1 million to $2 million, and clubs at Countryside, Stonebridge and The Strand in Naples, and Estero's Spring Run, all up to $1 million, were not labeled as country clubs on the federal list, receiving an "other" designation instead.

Collier County

Cedar Hammock Golf & Country Club Inc., Naples, $350K–$1M

Collier's Reserve Country Club Inc., Naples $350K–$1M

Cypress Woods Golf & Country Club Master Property, Naples, $350K–$1M

Forest Glen Golf and Country Club, Naples, $350K–$1M

Foxfire Community Association of Collier County Inc., Naples, $350K–$1M

Glen Eagle Golf & Country Club, Naples, $350K–$1M

Grey Oaks Country Club, Naples, $2M–$5M

Hideaway Beach Association Inc., Marco Island, $1M–$2M

LaPlaya Golf Club LLC, Naples, $350K–$1M

Naples Heritage Golf & Country Club, Naples, $350K–$1M

Olde Florida Golf Club Inc., Naples, $350K–$1M

Pelican Marsh Golf Club Inc., Naples, $350K–$1M

Quail Creek Village Foundation Inc., Naples, $350K–$1M

Quail West Foundation Inc., Naples, $1M–$2M

TwinEagles Club LLC, Naples, $350K–$1M

Vineyards Country Club Inc., Naples, $1M–$2M

Windstar Club Incorporated, Naples, $350K–$1M

Lee County

Colonial Country Club of Lee County Master Association Inc., Fort Myers, $350K–$1M

Crown Colony Golf & Country Club Inc., Fort Myers, $350K–$1M

Cypress Lake Country Club Inc., Fort Myers, $350K–$1M

Fiddlesticks Country Club Inc., Fort Myers, $1M–$2M

Grandezza Club 11481 Partners LLC, Estero, $350K–$1M

Gulf Harbour Golf and Country Club, Fort Myers, $1M–$2M

Heritage Palms Golf & Country Club, Fort Myers, $1M–$2M

Kelly Greens Master Association Inc., Fort Myers, $350K–$1M

Lexington Community Association Inc., Fort Myers, $350K–$1M

Miromar Lakes Golf Club LLC, Estero, $350K–$1M

Pelican Preserve Community Association, Fort Myers, $350K–$1M

Pelican Sound Golf and River Club Inc., Estero, $350K–$1M

Urban Deli at Verandah Golf Club, Fort Myers, $350K–$1M

Vasari Country Club Master Association Inc., Bonita Springs, $350K–$1M

Worthington of Renaissance LLC, Fort Myers, $350K–$1M

Sarasota and Manatee counties

Boca Royale Country Club LLC, Englewood, $350K–$1M

Capri Isles Golf Inc., Venice, $350K–$1M

Esplanade Golf and Country Club at Lakewood Ranch Inc., $350K–$1M

The Founders Golf Club Inc., Sarasota, $350K–$1M

Heron Creek Associates LTD, North Port, $350K–$1M

Littlestone Brotherhood LLC, Venice, $350K–$1M

Park Boulevard Management, University Park Country Club, $350K–$1M

River Strand Golf & Country Club, Bradenton, $350K–$1M

Stoneybrook Golf & Country Club of Sarasota, $350K–$1M

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And now a word about journalism

Anyone who reads my column probably knows my passion about what my colleagues and I provide 24 hours a day in our print and online efforts to make a difference in our communities.

It's a role I treasure, and I wanted to share some quick thoughts as Twitter and others marked #LoveMyNewspaperDay this week.

When you hear me say our local papers each publish a new book from start to finish every day, it really is true.

As part of her instruction, a teacher I know shared some new information with her class. That sparked a question from one of her inquisitive students: “Ms. Fern, How did you get so smart?” Without hesitation, she answered from her heart: “Well, I read the newspaper.”

Truly, our duty is to inform, educate and empower through the thousands of stories we report, write, photograph and video every year. If we entertain along the way as we provoke conversation and deeper thought, that’s good, too. We certainly want to encourage reading.

 And 2020 definitely provided those opportunities as you and I endured a challenging 52 weeks we’ll never forget. Not just a pandemic either. For subscribers, we covered a wide range including numerous investigations.

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Like in recent days, writer Janine Zeitlin shed light on two men who vanished almost two decades ago and ties to a deputy who has sat silent since his 2004 firing when a polygraph didn't go well. And in a September piece, she provided a look at how a family can be saved from the trauma of foster care.

As we prepared for the elections, scribe Frank Gluck alerted you to an inactive voter list, just in case you landed on it. Nearly 60% of Collier residents who voted in 2016 had been targeted for unclear reasons.

More:2020 elections: There's an 'inactive' voter list. Are you on it?

And:Dozens of deputies lied, cheated and stole. This Florida sheriff hired them anyway.

And reporter Devan J. Patel recently uncovered how dozens of deputies lied, cheated and stole. But a Southwest Florida sheriff hired them anyway.

In the end, the newspaper belongs to you. The Reader. With a Capital R. It's not possible without your support, and thank you so much for receiving us on your doorstep or through your computer or phone. If you don't subscribe, please consider it. Keep Democracy Alive.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ( writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Reports from the Palm Beach Post and the New York Times supplemented this report.

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