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Executive at largest recipient of PPP money steps down, hotel chain still reviewing whether to return money


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Executive at largest recipient of PPP money steps down, hotel chain still reviewing whether to return money

Executive at largest recipient of PPP money steps down, hotel chain still reviewing whether to return money
  • Douglas Kessler, president and CEO of Ashford Hospitality Trust, resigned Thursday.
  • He was CEO of one branch of the hotel conglomerate run by GOP donor Monty Bennett, whose companies grabbed more money than any other recipient of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
  • A Bennett spokesman said the company is still deciding whether to return the money, which was originally slotted for small businesses.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The chief executive of one branch of Republican donor Monty Bennett’s hotel conglomerate resigned Thursday afternoon, according to a statement released by the company. The statement did not explain why the executive, Douglas Kessler, departed, or whether it was tied to controversy over the federal bailout of the company.

Kessler stepped down as CEO of Ashford Hospitality Trust “to pursue other professional opportunities,” the statement said. Kessler could not immediately be reached for comment. Bennett’s board selected J. Robison Hays to replace Kessler as president and CEO.

Business Insider reported last Thursday that Bennett’s companies secured more money than any other beneficiary of the Paycheck Protection Program, more than $58 million in loans for the 128 hotels in his conglomerate. In March, the companies paid $50,000 to a pair of fundraisers for the president, Jeff Miller and Roy Bailey, to lobby the Treasury Department on their behalf.

Bennett’s companies later reported that they had applied for a total of $126 million in loans from the program.

The small business loan program formed the core of the almost $3-trillion federal bailout designed to keep workers on payrolls through the worst of the pandemic. Unemployment claims spiked to a total of 30 million this week.

Bennett’s hotel conglomerate topped a list of major chains and companies which reaped windfalls from the program as smaller businesses were stranded. Other companies, including Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers, announced they would return the money.

Following three days of uproar, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that publicly traded companies like Bennett’s would have to return the loans by May 7. Bennett posted a statement to his company’s site saying they wouldn’t return the money unless prompted by the Small Business Administration. Spokespersons for the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration declined to say whether Bennett’s was one of the companies that would have to return the loan money.

A Bennett spokesman said Thursday that they were still reviewing whether they would have to return the loans under the new rules set by the Treasury Department.

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