A Floridan pastor and his son were detained by authorities on Wednesday and charged with illicitly obtaining over $8 million in federal COVID relief funds after they attempted to buy a luxury mansion near Disneyland.
Evan Edwards and his 30-year-old son Josh were arrested five months after an NBC News report raised suspicions about their scam, which reportedly was outlined in court papers by federal prosecutors back in December 2020.
It all started in April 2020, when Josh Edwards applied for a $6 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to cover the costs of his family’s ministry, including rent, payroll, and utilities. According to a federal forfeiture complaint obtained by NBC News, the pastor’s application states that his organization, the ASLAN International Ministry, employed 486 people with a monthly payroll of $2.7 million. The ministry was approved for a loan of $8.4 million, but upon further investigation, federal agents claimed they showed up at the company’s Orlando office to a locked door, with neighbors saying they hadn’t ever seen anyone in or out of the establishment.
Upon further investigation, authorities realized that none of the URL donation links worked on the ministry’s website, and the sections of texts pasted on the site had been lifted from other religious organizations. ASLAN’s listed accountant on the PPP application also suffered from dementia and hadn’t done any work for the ministry since 2017, the court papers claimed.
The father-son duo were arrested at their house in New Smyrna Beach and slapped with six charges including conspiracy to commit bank fraud and visa fraud. They’re accused of knowing that ASLAN’s expenses were “significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent according to the indictment.
This isn’t the first time the family has been investigated. In September 2020, shortly after they moved to New Smyrna Beach, authorities both executed a search warrant at their home and pulled them over after they were caught speeding on the I-75 north of Gainesville.
The search warrant bore no results as the place had been “cleared out,” according to the forfeiture complaint, but federal agents did find bags of shredded documents in Edwards’ vehicle. They also saw the documents and other financial records had been shoved into Faraday Bags, which are unable to be tracked. They were taken into custody but released the next day.
Federal agents swooped in on Edwards’ home after he had tried to use a portion of the money to purchase a $3.7 million, 4,700-square-foot home, in a new Disney World development called Golden Oaks, according to the complaint. The deal never went through, and authorities instead seized the $868,000 that had been used as the property’s down payment.