Some SWFL businesses received millions of dollars in federal pandemic money

Reporter: Peter Fleischer Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

While you might not be surprised to hear the federal government has spent trillions of dollars in response to the coronavirus, a report published by a nonprofit news group took a look at what companies got big deals tied to the pandemic.

The data shows the federal government has committed more than $1.6 billion dollars to 433 Florida businesses while fighting COVID-19. That ranks 5th out of 50 states.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic by far in our region: The Southwest Florida business that has benefited the most during the pandemic is owned by a man who once called COVID-19 a “hoax.”

“When actions of the government have potentially life and death consequences, those are important to pay attention to,” said Derek Willis with ProPublica.

As the unprecedented coronavirus swept the world last year, ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization, began to track contracts and money committed by the federal government to fighting the pandemic.

“For the pandemic, they created a code that agencies are supposed to use when they are spending money that is in direct response to the pandemic,” Willis said.

For the most part, Willis says the spending was easy to understand.

“I think most of it is pretty self-explanatory,” Willis said. β€œThe masks and ventilators, things like that.”

But it has required historic government spending to deal with the historic pandemic.

Records show more than $39 billion across more than 18,000 contracts as of this month, and some of that money went to surprising places.

“We have no idea who that is, and they have no background in federal contracting,” Willis said.

That brings us to, by far, the largest recipient of COVID-related federal spending in Southwest Florida — Oakes Farms in Collier County.

Records show the business received four contracts last fall, including one worth more than $68 million Oct. 30. The next largest contract in Southwest Florida was 1.29 million.

Agriculture might not come to mind as a prominent COVID-related expense, but it’s a trend that ProPublica says it noticed frequently.

“You saw the USDA essentially pump out millions of dollars to … farm and food distribution businesses to say, β€˜Hey, whatever you’ve got in stock, we’ll purchase that for you,’” Willis said.

We reached out to Alfie Oakes, the vocal owner of Oakes Farms, who has spoken publicly against COVID-19 and safety precautions in the past.

”I’m not fighting for my business,” Oakes previously told WINK News. β€œI’m fighting for what we know is right. I feel the mask-wearing right now is nothing more than virtue signaling.”

Other Southwest Florida businesses have gotten funding as well. Bravo Inc., LV Free Enterprises, LLC and Beacon Point Associates, LLC all ranked in the top 105 across the state, receiving about $2.2 million combined.

“This is no small thing,” Willis said. β€œThis was an incredible effort by the United States government.”

Records show the government spending has decreased dramatically across 2021. July was the least costly month since the pandemic began.

WINK News reached out to Alfie Oakes for an interview in response to this story. He sent us the message below.

Alfie Oakes statement

“We were very blessed to be involved with the farm to families program.
We work off a very thin margins ‘s … however it did keep all of our employees busy during the slow time created by the government”

“As far as profitability it was not nearly as possible for us as the deal the Biden’s made with the Russian mayor Yuri Luzhkov that netted a 3.5 million
Or the uranium one deal for the Clinton family.”

“We are proud to know that what we did helped our country rather than selling our country out, I would say that’s the biggest difference.”

“May God continue to bless America”

MORE: Tracking Federal Purchases to Fight the Coronavirus

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