A former GOP congressional candidate in Idaho pleaded guilty this week to stealing COVID-19 relief money that was intended for his workers. Instead, he used the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds for his personal expenses and a political campaign in 2020.
The US Department of Justice reports that Nicholas Jones, 36, also gave a guilty plea for falsifying records to hide the work and time his workers put into his political campaign. This was done in a report to the FEC.
Court documents also state that Jones paid his employees at least $20,000 total in wages to work on his campaign. The PPP loan didn’t allow his employees to be compensated for working on his political campaign, and Jones knew it.
His business is located in Boise, Idaho, and it sells board games, puzzles, and tabletop games. Jones told his employees at the business that he would compensate them if they would put in time for his congressional campaign, according to DOJ.
Jones Applied For A $753,000 PPP Loan in 2020
Jones applied for a PPP loan of $753,000 for COVID-related assistance in 2020. He signed documents that said the money would be put into his company bank account. Instead, he used a lof the money to pay for a car, insurance policies, and ads for his congressional campaign.
DOJ reports that his employees would come to work for his campaign but were paid thousands of dollars from the PPP loan for his small business. It is possible that one or more of the employees found out they were receiving money for working on the campaign and reported it.
When he didn’t win the GOP primary election, Jones gave a campaign finance report to the FEC. But he left out the contributions of people who worked on his election campaign other than him. This omission included the thousands of dollars are work and time that his workers spent on the campaign.
SEE ALSO: Are People Going to Jail for PPP Loans?
After he lost the election, he told his employees to file the FEC report and not mention the $20,000. This is against federal campaign finance laws.
According to local reports, Jones also once owned other small businesses, including several Good Burger outlets but some of them have closed recently. He also has said he owns a financial organization in Coeur d’ Alene as well as a food court.
Jones has pleaded guilty to falsification of records and wire fraud in Idaho and will receive his sentence in a few months. He could receive up to 40 years in prison if he is convicted on all federal charges in the indictment.
DOJ Pursuing Many Other PPP Fraud Cases
There have been hundreds of PPP fraud cases closed in the last year. Last week, the FBI said that it had arrested 11 people in a CARES Act fraud in Omaha, Nebraska.
A federal grand jury indicted 11 people who stole approximately $2.5 million from PPP funds. Those who were indicted are Carl Estwick, Jackie Harper, Tarysh G. Hogue, Richard L. Kelly, Lenfield Kendrick, Henry T. Lewis, Trevor A. McNeil, Michael A. Perkins, Michael A. Perkins Jr., Shawn Prater, and Ramel Thompson.
Nine were placed under arrest in Omaha and others were arrested in Las Vegas and Atlanta. All of them are being held in Omaha at this time and awaiting their first court appearances.
According to the US attorney on the case, Ramel Thompson, 58, is thought to be the leader of the conspiracy. He said he gave guidance and direction to the others when they applied for PPP loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
State court records show that Thompson was in jail for 270 days in 2017 for filing fake income tax returns in Nebraska. He could receive additional prison time because he is already a felon.
Federal investigators say the group submitted PPP applications for $7.6 million and received approximately $2.5 million. Some of the companies were real but several were made up. However, the information they provided on the PPP applications, including payroll and number of workers, wasn’t true.
The US government alleges this is a complicated case, alleging that the defendants completed 59 PPP loan applications for the $7.6 million. There were at least 4,000 documents provided in all of the applications. The federal government seized all of these documents from 14 locations where search warrants were delivered this week.
Prater is a convicted felon and has an additional problem because a shotgun was found in his house in Omaha. However, in court this week, his attorney claimed it was a family heirloom that his fiancee owns.
The government provided several business names the group used to perpetuate their fraud. Some of the companies were Smokin Gunz Bar B Que, Mr. C’s Rims & Tire Sales, Sprague Street Auto, Kelly Auto Detailing, Kendrick & Kendrick Construction, Perkins & Perkins Construction, McNeils Cleaning, Hogue Enterprises, Neat Fleet, among others.
Federal investigators don’t think they will recover nearly the $2.5 million that may have been lost in the fraud. However, agents did say they found several assets that could be seized to pay back the government somewhat. These items included a 2016 Bentley, several dump trucks, and almost $100,000 in cash.
Several defendants made their initial appearances in federal court in Omaha yesterday. If they are convicted on conspiracy to commit wire fraud, they could receive up to 20 years in prison.