Owner of Missouri companies indicted for $2.9M in COVID relief fraud, Clean Air Act violations

(The Center Square) – A Missouri company has been indicted by a federal grand jury for fraudulently obtaining $2.9 million in federal pandemic loans and violating the Clean Air Act.

The FBI and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division investigated Chris Carroll and his company, Whiskey Dix Big Truck Repair in Bourbon, Mo., and found illegal removal of emission controls systems on more than 30 diesel trucks. Between 30 and 300 times the pollutants from the engines entered the atmosphere, according to government documents. Charges include 21 counts of violating the Clean Air Act, conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act and witness tampering.

A superseding indictment charged Carroll with three counts of bank fraud, six counts of money laundering and three counts of making a false statement to a financial institution. Carroll’s other company, Square One Group, received two allegedly fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loans, one for more than $1.2 million and a second loan for more than $1.6 million.

The indictment alleges Carroll and his business partner, George Reed, submitted the applications for the federal loans, intended to help businesses pay employees during the pandemic economic downturn, in their spouses’ names instead of their own. Charges state they needed to conceal and misrepresent Carroll’s status as a paroled felon, which would have eliminated his company from consideration for the loans.

Instead of compensating employees with the loans, the indictment stated they used the funds to start the Whiskey Dix Big Truck Repair company and kept $660,000 for themselves. The indictment alleges the company stopped compensating employees and paying health insurance coverage after applying for the federal loans.

“Square One Group received nearly ($3 million) in Paycheck Protection Program funds intended to sustain their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis,” Assistant Special Agent in Charge Chris Crocker said in a statement. “Instead, company owners Chris Carroll and George Reed allegedly used those funds to start new businesses and compensate themselves, all while laying off the very staff for whom those funds were intended.”

The indictment also alleges Carroll asked his employees to accept fault for the Clean Air Act violations. When an employee stated he was going to talk to federal investigators, Carroll threatened not to pay for the employee’s attorney.

“The defendants violated the Clean Air Act by removing devices designed specifically to reduce pollution on more than 20 heavy-duty diesel trucks,” Special Agent in Charge Lance Ehrig of EPA’s criminal investigation program in Missouri said in a statement. “Diesel exhaust not only worsens air quality, but harms people’s health, in particular people with respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD, so when these illegal trucks travel through neighborhoods they are creating serious health problems for residents.”

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