This article has been updated.

Local companies bearing the names of some of the city’s wealthiest people, such as attorney Thomas J. Henry and oilman Rod Lewis, received millions in federal loan dollars intended to help small businesses in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

San Antonio restaurant brands, a private university, medical providers, and staffing firms, also were among the entities receiving the maximum loan amounts of between $5 million and $10 million through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Data released by the Small Business Administration on Monday shows 25 San Antonio companies received PPP loans in the maximum range in order to retain between 31 and 500 jobs.

Among those entities are Lewis Energy Group, founded by the billionaire Lewis, and the Thomas J. Henry law firm, led by the flamboyant Corpus Christi native turned San Antonian.

In all, 3,000 San Antonio businesses appeared on the list of entities that were awarded between $150,000 and $10 million in the federal government’s forgivable loan program.

The program has not been without controversy. After a data research company revealed in April a list of major public companies that had received PPP loans, the SBA administrator and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that loans in excess of $2 million would be reevaluated “to further ensure PPP loans are limited to eligible borrowers.”

Dozens of companies, including Dallas-based Fiesta Restaurant Group, owner of Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical restaurants, responded by returning billions of dollars in loan funding.

For most companies, the loans have acted as a lifeline, providing much-needed cash flow while the economy recovers. More than 16,800 companies in San Antonio received PPP loans of less than $150,000, according to SBA data. The data for loans in this category lists the amount of each loan, the business type, and the lender but does not disclose the names of the companies.

In addition to Lewis and Henry, the top-dollar list also includes Bill Miller Bar-B-Q Enterprises, Our Lady of the Lake University, South Texas Oncology & Hematology, Donald L. Mooney Enterprises, and others.

The CARES Act established PPP with an allocation of $659 billion for small businesses, defined as an entity that employs fewer than 500 people. The loans are to be used to support payroll and certain other expenses and were available for up to 2.5 times last year’s average monthly payroll, up to $10 million.

PPP loans are forgiven if employers maintain their payroll and use the loan funds only for allowed expenses – such as salaries, rent, and utilities – during the first 24 weeks after the loan was issued.

As of June 30, the SBA had approved nearly 5 million loans totaling $521 billion. The average loan was $106,744. But nearly 5,000 loans were in the upper tier of between $5 million and $10 million.

“The PPP is an indisputable success for small businesses, especially to the communities in which these employers serve as the main job creators,” stated SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza after the data was released Monday. “ … [The] data shows that small businesses of all types and across all industries benefited from this unprecedented program.”

Texas received the second largest sum of PPP dollars behind California. Of the 6,300 Texas companies that received PPP loans, 400 received loans between $5 million and $10 million. Many went to large restaurant groups, which qualify based on the rule that allows for counting employees by individual location.

In San Antonio, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q, Den Tex Central (Denny’s), Buffets LLC (Hometown Buffet), Stagg Restaurants (McDonald’s), and MUY Brands, which owns local Wendy’s and Pizza Hut franchises, received between $5 million and $10 million. Bill Miller recently closed its dining rooms and is serving customers via drive-thru only.

Bill Miller Bar-B-Q, located downtown near City Hall, has been closed for dine-in service due to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Other well-known local restaurants borrowed large sums as well. Hasslocher Enterprises, owner of Jim’s Restaurants, and Mi Tierra Café & Bakery qualified for loans of between $2 million and $5 million. Alamo Café’s parent company, Paesano’s, and River Restaurants Ltd., which operates three River Walk eateries, received loans of between $1 million and $2 million.

Two contractors and building materials companies also received maximum-level loans, including Joeris General Contractors and Urban Concrete Contractors, and others were awarded lower levels, including Guido Construction Company and Gillette Air Conditioning Company ($1 million to $2 million).

In addition to car dealerships, medical practices, manufacturers, and companies in nearly every other industry in San Antonio, numerous area nonprofits, religious organizations, and private schools also received sizable PPP loans.

That list includes various amounts of funding for Haven For Hope, LiftFund, the Archdiocese of San Antonio, the San Antonio Food Bank, the San Antonio Zoo, the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio, Communities in Schools San Antonio, Central Catholic High School, Keystone School, and many more.

The only San Antonio law firm receiving a loan in the maximum range is Thomas J. Henry, a personal injury lawyer well-known for his bold and flashy television ads and billboards. In the ads, he boasts of multimillion settlements for his clients and appears riding in luxury cars and a private jet.

One report put Henry’s television ad spending in 2018 at $4.8 million for more than 46,000 airings. Henry’s exposure went further in 2017 when he and his family starred in an internet reality show, “Hanging With Los Henrys,” which chronicled the drama behind lavish birthday parties Henry hosted for his teenage children.

The PPP loan for Henry’s law firm supports a payroll of 487 employees and was processed by Frost Bank, according to SBA data. Henry did not respond to a message left at his office. Other well-known personal injury law firms that received PPP loans of between $1 million and $2 million were Wayne Wright and the Davis Law Firm.

Lewis’ firm operates 1,600 natural gas wells in South Texas and owns operations in Colombia and Mexico. SBA data shows the group’s loan application, processed by TransPecos Banks, will support a payroll of 408 employees.

Lewis is worth $1.3 billion, according to Forbes’ 2018 ranking of the world’s billionaires. He also owns a fleet of restored vintage planes through Lewis Air Legends. Lewis did not respond to a voicemail message requesting comment on Tuesday.

Three large staffing firms are among the top PPP loan recipients.  

San Antonio-based Donald L. Mooney Enterprises provides medical staffing and holds a number of multimillion-dollar government contracts, including federal agreements for support at coronavirus testing sites and critical care nursing in support of COVID-19.

The firm, which operates under several business names, received a loan of between $5 million and $10 million through Truist Bank to support a payroll of 500, according to SBA data. After a “horrible 2019,” due to various business challenges, said Donald Mooney, founder and CEO, he applied for the PPP in order to maintain staffing levels and “be successful in 2020.”

But when the SBA clarified its rules around program eligibility for government contractors in early May, the company returned all but $1.9 million of the total $5.9 million PPP loan money it had received, Mooney said.

“That would be double-dipping,” he said. “People will think that you’re a robber baron because you’ve got ‘X’ number of dollars in the PPP. Believe me, the greatest thing that you can give folks are jobs, keeping people working.”

The home page of the Donald L. Mooney website states that its Nurse’s Etc Staffing/PrimaCore Solutions employees are not eligible for the government-mandated paid sick leave and expanded FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) for reasons related to COVID-19 because the company has more than 500 employees. 

Two other agencies that received the maximum PPP loan range, Renhill Staffing Services and Shared Solutions Support, provide staffing services primarily for the oil and gas industry. The global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan also received a loan of between $5 million and $10 million loan to support its 251-member workforce.

Here is the full list of San Antonio companies that received between $5 million and $10 million in PPP loans:

  • Bill Miller Bar-B-Q Enterprises
  • Buffets LLC
  • Den Tex Central
  • Donald L. Mooney Enterprises
  • Education Service Center Region 20
  • Frost & Sullivan
  • Joeris General Contractors, Ltd.
  • Lewis Energy Group
  • Mission Pharmacal Company
  • Mpower Holdings
  • Muy Brands
  • Muy Hamburger Partners
  • Muy Pizza Tejas
  • Our Lady of The Lake University Of San Antonio
  • Renhill Staffing Services of Texas
  • Reynold Transportation
  • Solutions Shared Services
  • South Texas Oncology & Hematology
  • Southwestern Motor Transport
  • Stagg Restaurants
  • Surlean Meat Company
  • Thomas J. Henry Law
  • United Biologics Holdings
  • United Core Management
  • Urban Concrete Contractors

Disclosure: The Rivard Report received a paycheck protection program loan of less than $350,000.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.