Florida Pastor Accused of Scamming $8 Million of COVID Relief to Buy a Luxury Home Near Walt Disney World
Father and son arrested at home.
A Florida pastor and his son were arrested this week and charged with fraudulently obtaining more than $8 million in federal COVID relief payments, which were partly used to buy a luxury home near Disney World. Evan Edwards, 64, and his 30-year-old son Josh were taken into custody on Wednesday, several months after NBC News published a story asking why the duo hadn't been charged with the scam, which federal prosecutors had been aware of since December 2020. Read on to find out how the duo took the government for millions of dollars and how they were finally caught.
In April 2020, Josh Edwards applied for a $6 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to cover payroll, rent, and utilities for his family's ministry. In the loan application, he claimed that their ASLAN International Ministry had 486 employees and a monthly payroll of $2.7 million. The ministry received an $8.4 million loan. Two months later, the family tried to put a down payment on a $3.7 million home in a Disney World development called Golden Oaks in Orlando, according to federal records. When authorities realized the money was coming from PPP relief, the funds were seized, and an investigation began.
Investigators realized the rest of the PPP money was deposited among multiple bank accounts "in an attempt to hide and conceal their whereabouts," the federal indictment said. And authorities found several discrepancies in ASLAN's application. For example: When investigators visited the ministry's office, the door was locked, and neighbors said no one was ever seen inside. The man named on the application as ASLAN's accountant suffered from dementia and hadn't worked for the ministry since 2017. Evan and Josh Edwards knew the ministry's real number of employees and payroll expenses were "significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent," the federal indictment said.
Federal agents arrested Josh and Evan at the family's home in New Smyrna Beach on Wednesday morning. NBC News reported that Evan Edwards was taken from the house in a wheelchair while agents escorted Josh Edwards out of the home in handcuffs. The two men face six charges, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, visa fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Josh Edwards is also charged with making a false statement to a lending institution, according to the Justice Department. Both face up to 30 years in prison.
WESH reported that the men's appearance in federal court on Wednesday did not go as planned. Evan Edwards' public defender told the judge that he appeared to be nonverbal. The judge ordered U.S. Marshals to take him to a medical facility. When Josh Edwards appeared before the judge, his appointed attorney said he wasn't able to communicate with him either. Josh Edwards did not respond to the judge's questions and looked around the room. The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation, while a prosecutor said Edwards spoke "just fine" with agents hours before.
The family, originally from Canada, did missionary work in Turkey before they moved to Florida in 2019. The family hasn't yet commented on the charges."I'm glad they got arrested," a neighbor told NBC News. "It's a long time coming."