BOISE – A former congressional candidate and Boise businessman who ran against U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher in 2020 pleaded guilty to using COVID-19 funds for personal use and falsifying records to conceal over $20,000 in in-kind contributions, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Nicholas Jones, 36, applied for and received federal COVID-19 relief funds for three small business that totaled $753,600, according to a news release from the department. Jones was supposed to use the funds only for business-related expenses, but the department cited court records that showed he used a large portion of the funds for personal expenses like car payments, life insurance and political advertisements.
Jones pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court of Idaho to wire fraud and falsification of records, according to the news release. He could face up to 40 years in prison.
Jones applied to two COVID-19 relief programs including the Paycheck Protection Program, which helped businesses keep employees, and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which helped pay businesses’ operating expenses, according to a plea agreement obtained by the Idaho Statesman.
Jones owned multiple small businesses, including multiple Good Burger restaurants, some of which have closed in recent years. He applied for COVID-19 relief loans for three of them, the plea agreement said. Jones also owned a financial institution in Coeur d’Alene and a former food court that Jones sold in 2018, according to a felony information document.
It’s not clear whether Jones is still the CEO of Good Burger. The Statesman has reached out to the company for additional information.
Jones has four business registrations for various Good Burgers with the Idaho secretary of state, according to the office’s website.
“(Jones) took advantage of federally funded COVID-19 relief funds for personal gain,” the plea agreement said.
In March 2020, according to the plea agreement, Jones called a meeting at one of the small businesses that he owned to tell workers that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, he might have to cut hours or wages, but he offered his employees a solution: work on his congressional campaign.
From March to June 2020, employees who worked at the fast-food restaurant and helped on the campaign staff received over $20,000 in wages, part of which came from the PPP loan. That loan did not allow employees to be paid for working on his campaign staff, and Jones knew it, according to the agreement.
Additionally, after Jones lost the primary election in May 2020, he told his campaign committee to file a finance report with the Federal Elections Commission that ignored the $20,000, according to the news release and plea agreement. The money should have been considered in-kind contributions in the form of employees’ time and work.
Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The FBI is investigating the case, according to the release.
Boise-based attorney Mike French, who is representing Jones, declined to comment.
A sentencing for Jones hasn’t been set, but he plans to ask for a lesser sentence on the basis of mental and emotional conditions, according to a plea agreement filed within the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.