The biggest benefactor of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a Dallas, Texas-based hotelier named Monty Bennett, who has received $59 million from the program intended to help small or medium-sized businesses with the economic crisis.
Bennett is the chair of Ashford Hospitality Trust, which manages a number of hotels including Atlanta’s Ritz Carlton and the Marriott Beverly Hills. He is also the chair of lodging company Ashford Inc, which has laid off 95 percent of its 7,000 employees. Bennett has also stopped making payments on $4 billion in debt.
However, Ashford Hospitality Trust has directed the payment the company received from the PPP to go as a preferred dividend payment to Bennett and his father, who each received $2 million from the payments.
Subsidiaries of Ashford Hospitality Trust raked in $30 million from 42 loans and expect to see even more. That amount is eight times higher than what most companies ended up seeing under the PPP.
In addition, subsidiaries of other companies Ashford advises, including Braemar Hotels & Resorts (where Bennett is also the chairman) and others, had received tens of millions more.
Bennett addressed the controversy, saying that 75 percent of the money he received would be going toward paying employees and essential business.
But attorneys for lender Brookfield Asset Management say Bennett committed fraud by moving the funds from hotels to the parent company. Bennett’s response was that Brookfield was attempting to cajole him into accepting loan terms he isn’t a fan of. He maintained that the money was in the possession of Ashford Hospitality Trust, which could put it toward overhead or salaries.
Bennett’s rewards from the program are indicative of the problem that has emerged lately, when publicly traded companies took money from the PPP as it was running out of funds last week. The owner of Ruth’s Chris Steak House took $20 million, making it the second-highest after Bennett’s takeaways.
Shake Shack, by contrast, returned a $10 million loan issued to it.