Christopher Lick held himself out as the owner of a successful candle making business in Mississippi whose products were sold across the U.S. and Canada, according to federal court filings and newspaper reports.
In reality, prosecutors said, the 45-year-old’s businesses were on the brink of collapse.
That didn’t stop him from applying for more than $6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds and using the money on lavish personal expenses — including a house and a Tesla, the Justice Department said. Lick, who was indicted on more than a dozen counts of wire fraud and money laundering, made his first appearance in court Thursday.
He was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi.
A public defender appointed to represent Lick did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment Friday. Emails to his candle businesses also went unanswered.
Prosecutors said Lick lives in Starkville, about 30 miles west of the Alabama border in northeast Mississippi. According to the indictment filed May 7, Lick owned four companies — GTR Holdings, Aspen Lake Online, Aspen River Candle Company and Grassroots Natural Candle Company.
Grassroots Natural Candle Company purported to sell natural candles out of a brick and mortar store in downtown Columbus, The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi reported. Meanwhile, Lake used GTR Holdings to handle “key accounts, private labeling and distribution” for the candle business, according to the newspaper.
Aspen River Lake reportedly sold candles that didn’t use natural products and Aspen Lake Online manufactured bath and body products.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that passed in March 2020, small businesses could apply for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program. The loans were designed to keep workers on the payroll amid widespread shutdowns.
Prosecutors said Lick filed four applications for PPP loans on behalf of his businesses in April last year. He claimed to have hundreds of employees and average monthly payroll expenses in the six-figure range. Lick ultimately received over $6 million in funds, which he told The Dispatch would allow him to keep 743 employees.
But the money wasn’t going toward his businesses — three of which have “intent to dissolve” notices pending with the Mississippi Secretary of State for failing to file an annual report, prosecutors said.
The fourth, Aspen River Candle Company, has reportedly been dissolved since 2018.
Instead, prosecutors said Lick moved into a 5,000-square-foot house in Starkville shortly after withdrawing $1.5 million from the GTR Holdings account. He’s accused of transferring over $1.4 million in small increments to his Robinhood account to trade stocks over the last 10 months.
At one point, prosecutors said, he also purchased a Tesla for more than $100,000.
A grand jury indicted Lick on four counts of wire fraud, one count of making false statements to a financial institution and 11 counts of money laundering. Court filings show his next court date is May 17.