A Starkville man accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $6 million in COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program funds faces up to 30 years in prison on 16 federal charges.
Christopher Paul Lick, 45, devised a scheme to defraud and obtain funds by filing false and fraudulent loan applications with banks providing PPP loans, according to a press release the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Northern Mississippi issued Thursday. Lick is alleged to have overstated the number of employees and payroll expenses of his purported businesses to receive the funds.
Rather than use the PPP funds for his businesses, the press release says Lick purchased various luxury items for personal use, including a home valued at more than $1 million and a Tesla vehicle worth almost $100,000. He also invested PPP funds in the stock market.
A federal grand jury indicted Lick on four counts of wire fraud, one count of false statements to a financial institution and 11 counts of money laundering.
In July 2020, The Dispatch reported Lick receiving PPP loans for four of his businesses: Grassroots Natural Candle Company on Fifth Street North in Columbus, $350,000 to $1 million in loans; GTR Holdings LLC, $2 million to $5 million in loans; Aspen River Candle Company, between $1 million and $2 million in loans; and Aspen Lake Online LLC whose loan amount was not specified.
Public records The Dispatch obtained for local businesses receiving PPP funds gave ranges, not specific amounts, for loans of $150,000 or more.
The businesses received PPP loans through Pennsylvania-based Customers Bank and New Jersey-based Cross River Bank.
Lick claimed he had 743 employees in locations across the country and in Canada — including management staff, salespeople and some maintenance personnel — which the loans would benefit. His Grassroots candle store on Fifth Street in Columbus remains closed.
PPP loans, meant to help businesses weather the pandemic, were supposed to be spent on payroll, rent, utilities and mortgage costs — with at least 60 percent devoted to payroll — and had the possibility of forgiveness. Borrowers were given 24 weeks to spend the funds received.
Lick did not return calls from The Dispatch by press time.