A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a former Idaho congressional candidate to more than two years in prison for wire fraud, but acknowledged it is struggling with how to factor in mental health concerns raised by the defendant’s legal team.
“This case has shaken me,” U.S. District Judge David Nye said in court. “I found myself swinging like a pendulum between a hard sentence and a light sentence.”
Nicholas Jones, 36, the founder of the Good Burger franchise and the opponent of U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher in the 2020 Republican primary for the House of Representatives, pleaded guilty to fraud after using the COVID-19 funds for personal use and falsifying records to hide it. became $20,000 in in-kind contributions, previously reported by the Idaho Statesman.
After taking into account the defendant’s medical history, lack of criminal history, family background and sentencing recommendations, Nye sentenced Jones to 30 months in prison on the two counts of fraud, to be served concurrently. This was three months less than what the prosecution had requested.
Jones, who could have been sentenced to up to 40 years, was also fined $100,000 — the judge said he would waive interest on the penalty — and ordered to pay $90,564 in restitution.
According to a Justice Department news release, Jones received $753,600 in federal COVID-19 relief funds for three small businesses. The funds were intended only for business-related expenses, but Jones used a large portion of the money for personal expenses such as car payments, life insurance and political campaigns, the Idaho Statesman reported.
Jones’ attorney, Michela “Mike” France, asked for a lesser sentence based on his conviction mental and emotional state. He said Jones had post-traumatic stress disorder and undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and the medication he was taking was exacerbating his symptoms, including hallucinations.
“His mental illness was so pervasive that it was endemic to his life and everything that was going on,” French said.
Prosecutor Rosalyn O’Gara argued that under the law, the defense must show that Jones committed the crimes while he was mentally impaired. He said his behavior did not indicate that and instead showed an intent to seek financial gain.
“The government has not disputed that the defendant has a mental health problem, but the defendant has not shown that those problems have impaired their abilities,” O’Gara said.
Jones appealed Wage protection programwhich helped businesses retain employees during the pandemic and Economic damage loanswhich helped to pay for the operating costs of businesses, according to an agreement reached by the state of Idaho.
Jones started and owned several Good Burger restaurants, several of which have now closed. Nye said Fantastic Games, a game store with locations in downtown Boise and at The Village at Meridian, is Jones’ only remaining business.