Some Small Business Administration programs have been the vehicles for possible criminal misconduct -- including extortion, misuse and duplication of government payments and involvement with organized-crime figures -- according to a report by the agency's inspector general.

The inspector general completed 186 investigations and referred 21 cases to the Justice Department and 15 to the FBI for prosecution or further investigation, the semi-annual report said.

The Justice Department declined prosecutions in 26 cases. In addition, $4.3 million has been recovered from firms and $11.7 million wasn't spent by the government as a result of the inspector general's investigations and monitoring between April 1 and Sept. 30 this year, the report said.

For example, the Justice Department is considereing prosecution of the principal of a minority-enterprise small business investment company who allegedly conspired with a banker to obtain fraudulently a SBA license and $2.1 million in funds from SBA, the report said.

The Justice Department is investigating a small business investment company, which had received $14.7 million in SBA financing, for allegedly being involved in fraudulent transfers of property connected with its bankruptcy.

In investigating the SBA's small business investment company program, the inspector general's office examined 198 companies licensed by the SBA to make loans to small businesses and found 452 possible violations of which 182 were considered significant, meaning "they could directly contravene the [Small Business Investment Act of 1958] or otherwise harm small businesses," the report said.

The 182 significant possible violations involved 83 companies. Forty-one companies were cited for 59 conflict-interest violations, 29 companies allegedly assumed or attempted to assume unapproved control of a company it was supposed to help by lending it money, and 32 small business investment companies were accused of charging excessive interest rates on loans to small business.

For example, one small business investment firm was said to have charged an interest rate of 24 percent to many small firms and charged one firm 40 percent, the report said.

In another case, a small business investment firm made a personal loan of $100,000 to the president of a small business to buy a home. At another time, an investment firm provided $150,000 to a small business, and $100,000 of it was used by the small business' secretary to buy a rental building "for personal benefit," the report said.

In the SBA's farm disaster loan program, $12.4 million of $81.2 million in loans have been misused in the last several years, the report said.

In addition, the Justice Department alleged that organized-crime figures who owned a surety bond company did business with the SBA, the report said.