Investigations into misuse of federal pandemic-relief funds have nabbed another church leader, along with his adult son. On Wednesday (Dec. 14), Evan Edwards, 64, and son Josh Edwards, 30, were arrested at the family’s Florida home. According to a federal indictment, the pair defrauded the U.S. government out of more than $8 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Each man has been charged with six counts related to the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including bank fraud. Josh Edwards faces an additional charge of making a false statement to a lending institution.
Federal prosecutors identified the alleged scam back in December 2020. When charges hadn’t yet been filed by July 2022, NBC News reporters highlighted the case. “The inaction is especially curious given that other suspected Covid-relief fraudsters have been hit with criminal charges despite being accused of stealing far less money,” the team of journalists wrote.
Evan Edwards Indictment: PPP App Misstated Ministry’s Size
Evan Edwards, who is from Canada, performed missionary work in Turkey before moving his family to Florida. In 2019, he founded ASLAN International Ministry to “communicate Christian love in doctrine and service to the poor.”
After the pandemic hit in spring 2020, Josh Edwards submitted a PPP application on behalf of ASLAN, claiming the nonprofit had 486 employees and payroll expenses of $2.7 million monthly. According to the indictment, almost everything in that application was untrue. The two men knew the ministry’s employee numbers and payroll expenses were “significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent,” say prosecutors.
More than $8.4 million of PPP funds were then deposited into an Edwards family bank account that, until then, had a balance of $25, according to the federal complaint. Afterward, say prosecutors, the family spread out the loan money in various accounts “in an attempt to hide and conceal their whereabouts.”
Two months later, suspicions arose when the family tried to purchase a $3.7 million home near Orlando, part of Disney World’s Golden Oak development. Authorities seized the down-payment funds and began looking into the situation.
Investigators found that no one worked at ASLAN’s business office. In addition, the employee listed as the accountant stopped working for the nonprofit in 2017 and has dementia. And the employee listed as ministry director hadn’t worked with ASLAN since 2012. Other red flags appeared on the ministry’s website, which had inactive links and text that was plagiarized from other sources.
Pastor Evan Edwards’ Arrest Was ‘A Long Time Coming’
While trying to execute a search warrant in September 2020, police stopped the family’s vehicle on a Florida highway. Inside were shredded documents and a bag that prevents the tracking of electronic devices. Although the family was taken into custody on an unrelated immigration charge, that case was dismissed.