Councilmember Mike Carroll Nets Over $180,000 in Taxpayer Funded COVID Loans for His Law Office [Opinion]

According to publicly available records, Irvine City Councilmember, Mike Carroll and his wife, Bernice “Betty” Carroll received $184,510 in taxpayer funded dischargeable loans, over the course of two years from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). According to FederalPay.org, the loans went toward payroll expenses in an effort to “retain” two positions at Carroll & Carroll PC, a law practice founded and owned by Mike Carroll.

The PPP was established by the CARES Act in 2020 as a federal stimulus program for employers, impacted by the pandemic, to retain their employees and avert mass layoffs. This program provides small businesses with funds to pay up to 8 weeks of payroll costs including benefits. In 2021, a second round of loans was offered under nearly identical terms. Under the program, the loans may be forgiven, cost free, so long as a portion of the funds goes toward payroll or business costs, effectively turning the loan into a grant. According to ProPublica, $90,000 of the loan was forgiven on March 24, 2022.  It appears Carroll & Carroll PC availed itself of the funds in both rounds.

Little is known about Carroll & Carroll PC. The PPP public records indicate this business as an office of lawyers. There is no apparent website. Phone calls go to voicemail with an automated message referring to “the office of Michael Carroll” with no indication that it’s a law firm. There is almost no biography or information about the law office other than a short bio on the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce website. His Chamber profile claims the business “provides cost-effective onsite part-time and interim in-house corporate counsel services for public companies, closely-held private companies, and private equity firms and their portfolio companies.”

While there is no evidence of illegality, especially given the PPP program’s relaxed eligibility requirements and little oversight measures, Carroll’s opportunism is on par with his previous financial dealings.

For instance, in 2020 he spent $70,000 in Irvine taxpayer dollars on political mailers leading up to city council elections. Although in clear violation of city policy, he narrowly averted punishment when he proved to be the deciding vote on a 3-2 decision to retroactively change city policy so that his actions can be excused.

Mike Carroll is also Chairman of the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA), Irvine’s troubled not-for-profit Community Choice Energy Provider for residential and commercial power services in Irvine. Irvine taxpayers have invested $7.7 million in the program and in its brief existence, OCPA has faced a multitude of challenges. During an OCPA regular board meeting on April 5, 2022, Carroll claimed that OCPA is “right where we want to be”, and gushed self-congratulations unapologetically. Five days later, on April 10, OCPA received a $2 million dollar fine imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission for not purchasing enough electricity to make it to Fall. Additionally, perhaps emboldened by getting away with the $70,000 political mailer controversy, he employed a similar self-promoting tactic with at least two OCPA mailers.

There is a history and pattern of ethically questionable practices by Carroll when it comes to publicly funded programs. And while a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is pending, it remains to be seen what kind of representations Councilmember Carroll made on his PPP loan applications. Regardless, Councilmember Carroll is a public servant for the City of Irvine and serving as a fiduciary of millions of taxpayers dollars while sitting on the board at OCPA. It matters how and why he spends taxpayers dollars on his personal interests. After all, trust is a pillar of Democracy.