An NBC News report in July raised questions about why they hadn’t been charged in the alleged scam, which prosecutors outlined in court papers in late 2020.
A Florida pastor and his son were arrested Wednesday on charges of fraudulently obtaining more than $8 million in federal Covid relief funds and attempting to use some of the money to buy a luxury home near Walt Disney World.
Evan Edwards and his son, Josh, 30, were taken into custody five months after an NBC News report raised questions over why they hadn’t been charged in the alleged scam, which federal prosecutors first identified in court papers in December 2020.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the family had hired an attorney.
A source familiar with the investigation said NBC News’ previous reporting led law enforcement to prioritize the case.
The case dates to April 2020, when 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 the organization, ASLAN International Ministry, had 486 employees and a monthly payroll of $2.7 million, according to a federal forfeiture complaint.
ASLAN International was ultimately approved for an $8.4 million loan.
But when federal investigators showed up at the ministry’s office in Orlando, the door was locked and workers at the neighboring businesses told them nobody was ever seen inside, the complaint says. A review of the ministry’s website found that the donation links were inactive and sections of text were apparently lifted from other religious sites, according to the complaint.
There were other red flags. The man who was listed on the loan application as the ministry’s accountant suffered from dementia and hadn’t done any work for the organization since 2017, federal prosecutors said in court papers, citing an interview with the man’s son.
Federal agents descended on the family’s home in New Smyrna Beach about 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Evan Edwards was wheeled out of the house in a wheelchair. Agents escorted Josh Edwards out of the home and into a law enforcement vehicle, his hands cuffed behind his back.
A six-count indictment unsealed Wednesday accuses them of making a series of false claims in their PPP loan application, including that ASLAN International had 486 employees and average monthly payroll expenses of $2.7 million.
Evan and Josh Edwards knew that ASLAN’s actual number of employees and actual monthly payroll expenses were “significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent,” says the indictment prosecutors filed in the Middle District of Florida.
The two men, who are originally from Canada, were hit with a total of six charges, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud and visa fraud. They were expected to appear in federal court in Orlando on Wednesday afternoon.