On August 18 2020, an application for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Cares Act Funds in the amount of $64,484 for a Microenterprise Financial and Technical Assistance Program passed unanimously. This was the top priority for, and first attempted use of CARES Act funds by the Mono County Board of Supervisors.
The first thing Mono County officials prioritized spending CARES Act funds on had nothing to do with the county's Covid-19 emergency response. They could have prioritized training and or hiring nurses, EMT, ambulance response, or fortify other emergency services the county was supposedly in desperate need for in order to respond to Covid-19. However, this was not the case.
Instead, the first use of CARES Act funds were allocated to Mono County Economic Development, run by Alicia Vennos and Jeff Simpson. Vennos and Simpson wanted to create a program they claimed would assist microenterprise businesses in the unincorporated county. A microenterprise is defined as a business that employs 5 or less employees. They claimed the program would provide grants of up to $10,000 to eligible businesses. Yet, the funds went unused for over two years, as no businesses applied for the funds in the program. The reason provided by Jeff Simpson as to why the funds were not utilized was the program was too complicated so no businesses wanted to apply for the "free" money.
Why was the Mono County Board of Supervisors first priority to spend CARES Act funds for a business assistance program? Why wasn't the top priority to fortify emergency services in order to respond to Covid-19? Were our emergency services overwhelmed by Covid-19? Was there an actual emergency occurring due to Covid-19 in Mono County?
Out of the $64,484 of CARES phase one funds for this program only around $56,000 was actually going to be available as grants for small businesses. Roughly $8,484 was to be allocated as compensation to Vennos and Simpson for administration fees. An additional $516 was for a few hours of consultant work from a Mr. Jeff Lucas, a contractor who supposedly specializes in CDBG (Community Development Block Grants). Not only was the Mono County Board of Supervisor's first priority to use CARES Act funds unrelated to emergency response, but a large chunk of the money was going to line the pockets of their colleagues in Economic Development under the guise of administration fees! A clear cut case of embezzlement if you ask me.
At the County Board of Supervisors meeting on October 18, 2022 all five supervisors voted unanimously to amend the original program for the $64,484 from microenterprise grants to small business forgivable loans. This amendment to the funds does not alter the fact that using these funds is fraud. The original Microenterprise Financial and Technical Assistance Program was an attempted fraudulent use of the funds for the same reason that the small business forgivable loans program is a fraudulent use of the funds. CARES Act funds allocated to local governments by the state and federal governments have specific requirements as to how the funds may be used. According to the CARES Act guidelines, the funds MUST be used for necessary expenditures ONLY. The word "necessary" in this case, pertains to medical or public health needs as a consequence of emergency conditions due to Covid-19. A second primary requirement for using the funds is demonstrable expenses incurred as a result of Covid-19. Sure, many businesses incurred expenses due to the state and local government policy response to Covid-19, IE. lock downs, businesses restrictions, penalties etc. However, there were no emergency conditions from Covid-19 in Mono County that resulted in businesses incurring losses. Certainly, there are no emergency conditions occurring due to Covid-19 now in October 2022. Therefore, using these funds then, as it would be now, is an act of fraud. CARES Act funds that are not utilized or unable to be utilized are required to be returned to the US treasury. Any business, individual, or government entity that uses these funds is in fact accepting funds embezzled by Mono County Inc. and committing an act of fraud.