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FOX 13 Investigates: Olympian’s company received $10 million in pandemic bailout despite conflicting numbers

Posted at 10:11 PM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 01:14:22-04

PARK CITY, Utah — Allison Baver accomplished one dream when she earned an Olympic short track speedskating medal.

In October 2019, she set her sights on the film and television industry by incorporating her own production company. When the pandemic arrived months later, Baver was among the business owners who sought assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

The Small Business Administration says the average PPP loan was $206,000. Allison Baver Entertainment received the maximum amount under the program — $10 million.

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Why Baver Entertainment needed so much isn’t clear. Over email, Baver declined to answer questions from FOX 13 and said she was unavailable until late July. Neither Baver nor anyone associated with her company have been charged with any crimes.

On social media, Baver recently made posts saying she’s visiting film festivals and shooting locations.

According to data published by the Small Business Administration, which administers the PPP, Baver Entertainment said $8.6 million in assistance was for payroll. The company reported having 430 employees.

But Baver Entertainment has been telling the Utah Department of Workforce Services that it has between one and four employees.

The lower numbers would be more typical of a production company, says Marshall Moore, the vice president of operations at Utah Film Studios in Park City. Production companies will hire more workers `— actors, crew and support staff — when they’re shooting.

“You’ll get small budgets that are under a million dollars and they’ll work with sometimes 30 to 50 people,” Moore said. “And then you can go larger."

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“Over $1 million, $5 million to $10 million, sometimes those crew sizes are about 120 people and that includes the producers, the camera people, grips, electric," he added.

What would it take to employ more than 400?

“I mean, to me, that would be ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’” Moore said. “That would be Marvel.”

PPP is often described as a loan, but the loan can be forgiven if the recipient maintains payroll and only uses the money on other approved expenses, including utilities and rent or mortgage. Applicants were supposed to describe the expenses they had as of February 2020.

“The goal of the Paycheck Protection Program was to keep unemployment down,” said Richard Gordon, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and director of its Financial Integrity Unit.

He says the PPP didn’t require banks processing the applications to verify the borrower was telling the truth about their employees and needs.

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With the PPP, “the U.S. government is in effect the cosigner,” Gordon said. “So, if the borrower fails to repay the U.S. government, meaning us, the taxpayer, winds up repaying the loan.”

Baver is a Pennsylvania native who moved to Utah to train. She made three Olympic squads. Baver won a bronze medal with a relay team at the 2010 games.

For the PPP loan, Baver Entertainment turned to Pennsylvania-based Meridian Bank to process her application. The bank’s CEO declined to discuss the application with FOX 13.

Baver Entertainment has one producing credit this year, a drama with actor Elijah Wood called “No Man of God.” IMDB says Baver Entertainment provided funding.

Gordon, who has not researched Baver Entertainment and is speaking only in generalities, says the PPP couldn’t be used as capital to expand. Nor does he think financing a film would be allowed under the PPP unless everyone on the set was on the recipient’s payroll as of February 2020.

“One way that I think Congress could have made this pretty close to fraud-free was if it was run through the Internal Revenue Service,” Gordon said.

The IRS “know our employees. They know exactly how much they are being paid because they know how much is being withheld.” Only three other Utah companies received $10 million, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of PPP data. Those three were all in business long before Baver Entertainment.

Some better-established production companies received far less from the PPP. The Jim Henson Co. asked for $2.3 million and said it had 110 employees.

New Regency Productions, the film company behind such movies as “The Revenant,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the latest version of “Little Women,” received $1 million and reported 50 employees.

In December, Variety attributed Baver as saying her upcoming productions included a horror comedy now called “Monsters.” When FOX 13 reached out to the writer-director named in the article, her representative replied saying the project got put on hold when the pandemic arrived and they haven’t heard anything more.

Baver also told the news site her company was working on a horror film called “Dead Princess.” Production was halted by the pandemic and is supposed to start again this year.

Baver Entertainment’s listed address is the former Olympian’s townhome in Taylorsville. According to documents on file with the Salt Lake County recorder, Baver’s homeowners association filed a notice in January 2020 saying the townhome was behind on its fees; the HOA planned to sell the property to satisfy the debt.

In July 2020, about three months after Baver Entertainment received the $10 million, the HOA filed a new notice saying the debt had been paid. The sale was canceled.

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