Eli Fields leaves football team after questions about federal loan

Lineman Eli Fields took out a federal loan for over $20k to fund a men’s clothing store, but the UP could not find any record of its existence. He sent the UP a cease and desist letter before leaving the football team.

Fields+did+not+play+during+his+time+at+FAU.

Eston Parker III

Fields did not play during his time at FAU.

Gillian Manning, Editor-in-Chief

Eli Fields, former offensive lineman for the FAU football team, received a loan for more than $20,000 from the federal government for his clothing business in April, courtesy of the Paycheck Protection Program.

The UP cannot find evidence of any business run by the former player, nor can an expert accountant.

A few days after the UP contacted the Athletics Department and Fields for more information, Fields announced his intention to transfer from the university. Neither Fields nor FAU officials have responded to multiple requests for comment.

Business Not Found

In April, Fields received $20,666 from the federal government for a Boca Raton-based men’s clothing business, according to available public records.

On his loan, Fields wrote that he was the sole proprietor of the business, meaning he runs it by himself and is the only employee.

At the time, business owners could apply for money via the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which the federal government created to quickly distribute loans so businesses could endure the economic stress of the pandemic.

Providing loans instead of grants allowed the government to distribute funds as quickly as possible with minimal review, and the government permitted banks to disburse funds to businesses that applied.

Sunbiz.org, a website housed under the Florida Department of State, lists public information about each Florida-based business in the state. Neither the UP nor FAU accounting professor Michael Crain—an expert in forensic accounting—could find a Florida-based business under Fields’ name, and Fields did not respond to requests for clarification.

Fields did not provide a URL for his clothing store and he hasn’t mentioned his business on his Twitter (@elifields_77) or his verified Instagram (@lildje27). His Instagram profile is private but a source following the account confirmed it.

The UP reached out to Marlene Rodriguez, a public information officer for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for the Southern District of Florida, but did not receive a response before publishing. The DOJ investigates fraud.

The address attached to the loan is 960 N University Drive, which is the address for Innovation Village Apartments, a dormitory on the Boca Raton campus.

After the UP received an anonymous tip that Fields had an allegedly fraudulent PPP loan, Fields became aware that the paper was investigating and sent a cease and desist letter to the UP demanding that the organization “not write any articles regarding Eli Fields.”

A cease and desist letter is a document that demands the recipient halt any allegedly illegal activity.

The physical address that Fields included in the letter is to an apartment complex close to campus. It’s unclear which address is Fields’ actual residence or why the business loan is linked to a dorm. He sent the cease and desist letter on Nov. 3. It was not sent by a legal professional but from Fields’ university email address, which is atypical.

Crain, who is a certified public accountant, said the loan lenders have a responsibility to review loans more thoroughly after they disburse the funds.

Fields’ lender is California-based Harvest Small Business Finance. Representatives from the company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

According to the federal Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, at least 75% of PPP loans that the DOJ implicated as fraudulent were facilitated by online lenders like Harvest.

Crain questioned why a Florida resident would take a loan from a lender in California.

“Why did somebody in Florida go to California to file the paperwork?” Crain said. “Why go across the country when there were plenty of people locally who could do that?”

It is possible that someone took Fields’ information to file for a loan, but the Boca Raton Police Department and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that he has not filed a case for identity theft.

If the businesses can provide the documentation to prove they used their funds as intended, the federal government will forgive the loan, meaning it does not need to be repaid. The government has not disclosed the status of Fields’ loan and if it has been forgiven.

“In a robbery you need eyewitnesses. You don’t need eyewitnesses here.” – Michael Crain, expert in forensic accounting

Athletics, Fields, University Won’t Comment

On Nov. 9, the UP emailed Assistant Athletics Director Katrina McCormack and Fields about the PPP loan. On Nov. 13, Fields entered the transfer portal, signaling his intention to attend another college or university to play football. McCormack did not acknowledge the UP’s question about Fields’ loan.

The transfer portal is a digital system for student-athletes to notify schools of their interest in finding new institutions to play for.

Since entering the portal, Fields’ Twitter claims Gardner-Webb University, Alabama A&M, and Colorado Mesa University have offered him scholarships.

Neither Fields nor the FAU Athletics Department has explained Fields’ loan or intent to transfer.

“Once a player leaves the team, your best bet is to contact them directly,” McCormack wrote in a Nov. 16 email after the UP asked about Fields’ reason for transferring.

Joshua Glanzer, the associate vice president for media relations and public affairs, has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

At a press conference on Nov. 18, a UP reporter asked head football coach Willie Taggart about Fields’ reason for leaving.

“What I will say [is], I would like to talk about the players that are on this football team,” Taggart said.

Athletics did not make a formal announcement about Fields’ exit.

Widespread PPP Fraud

Crain explained that it would be fraudulent to lie on the loan application, and it would be fraudulent to use the funds for reasons other than maintaining the business.

Gillian Manning, Michelle Rodriguez-Gonzalez

“All of that can be proven just with documents. In a robbery, you need eyewitnesses. You don’t need eyewitnesses here,” Crain said.

In August, the Social Science Research Center published a paper, “Did FinTech Lenders Facilitate PPP Fraud?” The study was conducted by three researchers from the University of Texas: John Griffin, Samuel Kruger, and Prateek Mahajan.

Fintech is a term used to describe financial services and institutions that conduct themselves online rather than traditional, in-person services. Harvest, Fields’ lender, is a fintech company.

The paper referred to Harvest as “a small lender with limited history” but was the fourth largest fintech lender for PPP loans. They reported that Harvest provided a total of $8.7 billion in loans for a total of 433,306 loans.

“My guess is that Harvest was not verifying the information that Eli gave them, they don’t have enough time to verify it when they’re processing this many [loans],” Crain said. “Eli could have given them false or exaggerated information and then Harvest would just process it without verification—that would be my theory.”

Harvest is one of the top 10 lenders with the most frequent discrepancies in loans, their inconsistencies ranging from 12.8% to 54.64%.

About 10% of PPP loans from fintech companies were potentially misreported when the loans were first disbursed in April 2020. By April 2021, when Fields received his loan, the number of suspicious fintech-provided loans increased to over 40%.

“Fintech loans are highly suspicious at a rate of almost five times that for traditional lenders,” the paper concluded.

Harvest and other lenders provided hundreds of PPP loans for a payroll of $20,666, just like Fields’. Crain described this as a “red flag” but said this does not necessarily mean there’s “anything wrong.”

“What kind of coincidence is there that Harvest processed, at least in this data set, 124 small businesses that had the identical odd number payroll?” Crain said while reviewing loan data. “That seems to be unusual.”

Fields has not been arrested or charged in connection with loan fraud.

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of our December/January issue titled “Unfinished Business,” which you can pick up on campus or read online here.

Gillian Manning is the editor-in-chief for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, tweet her @gillianmanning_ or email [email protected]