By: April Carson
On Wednesday, a pastor from Florida and his son were apprehended on charges of obtaining more than $8 million in federal Covid relief funds fraudulently, as well as attempting to utilize some of the money for buying an upscale residence close to Walt Disney World.
After the release of an NBC News report highlighting why Evan Edwards and his son, Josh (30), had still not been charged in relation to a possible scam back in December 2020, both individuals were taken into custody five months later.
The pair allegedly used a Florida-based church, which Evan Edwards serves as pastor, to acquire loans from the Small Business Administration. The SBA is primarily responsible for providing financial aid during the pandemic in accordance with the CARES Act of 2020.
Initially, it wasn't certain whether the family had engaged a lawyer. A source familiar with the inquiry divulged that NBC News' past reporting prompted law enforcement to prioritize this case.
In April 2020, Josh Edwards submitted an application for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan totaling $6 million to cover payroll, rent and utilities for his family's ministry. In the PPP loan request form, Mr. Edward declared that ASLAN International Ministry had 486 employees with a total monthly payroll of approximately $2.7 million - this information was confirmed in the federal forfeiture complaint subsequently filed by authorities.
As part of the application process, Mr. Edwards allegedly provided false payroll documentation that supported his claims to the Small Business Administration (SBA).
With tremendous success, ASLAN International was granted a staggering $8.4 million loan!
When federal investigators arrived to the ministry's office in Orlando, they were met with a locked door and warnings from neighbouring businesses that no one had ever been seen inside. A thorough investigation of the ministry’s website uncovered an inactive donation link as well as sections plagiarized from other religious websites - leading them to file a complaint against the fraudulent organization.
The father-son duo were taken into custody at their Florida residence and have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment. The two are also facing charges for money laundering, misuse of government funds, and providing false statements to the SBA.
Disturbing warning signs began to emerge. According to court papers, which cited a conversation with the son of the purported accountant for the ministry listed on their loan application, this individual had been suffering from dementia and hadn't done any work for them since 2017.
At around 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning, federal agents arrived at the Edwards family home in New Smyrna Beach and quickly took action. Evan was swiftly placed into a wheelchair as he was removed from the house while Josh had his hands cuffed behind his back before being escorted to an awaiting law enforcement vehicle.
An indictment unveiled on Wednesday charged ASLAN International with six counts of deceitful statements that were included in their PPP loan application, such as claiming to have 486 employees and an average monthly payroll expenditure of $2.7 million which was untrue.
According to the indictment filed by prosecutors in the Middle District of Florida, Evan and Josh Edwards were aware that ASLAN's real number of employees and actual monthly payroll costs were either drastically reduced or nonexistent.
Yesterday afternoon, two men from Canada had to appear in a federal court in Orlando after being hit with six charges total connecting them to bank fraud and visa fraud. The allegations included conspiracy to commit both of these offenses.
The Edwardses are now facing a maximum of 230 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. The investigation is still ongoing and additional charges may be filed.
One neighbor, remaining anonymous due to the gravity of this situation, told NBC News that they're glad justice has finally been served. "It's a long time coming," they said.
After serving as missionaries in Turkey for numerous years, the Edwards family relocated to a suburban town within an hour’s drive of Orlando in 2019. However, come September 2020 federalagents visited their home and found it vacated; no one was present when agents arrived with a search warrant according to the civil forfeiture complaint.
That evening, Florida police officers pulled over the family's Mercedes SUV on I-75 north of Gainesville for allegedly violating speed limits. According to a police report, their vehicle was exceeding the posted limit at that time. Within the SUV, officers found a laptop and other items that led to their investigation.
Upon arriving at the scene, federal agents discovered that the car contained shredded documents and suitcases full of financial records. What's more, their electronic devices were stuffed inside Faraday bags which are used to block radio frequencies in order to prevent tracking - as indicated by the civil forfeiture complaint.
After the family was arrested on an immigration-related charge, court records revealed that their case was dismissed and they were released from custody the following day.
In April 2021, the Edwards family was mandated to forfeit their $8.4 million gain following a federal judge in Florida determining that it had been obtained from bank fraud and money laundering violations. The Edwards family did not dispute the confiscation of their funds.
According to the complaint, they had attempted to utilize a portion of their money to invest in a 3.7 million dollar property situated in Golden Oaks, the brand-new Disney World development.
The Edwards family's alleged scheme was to offer Covid-related products, such as antibody tests and PPE kits, at inflated prices using false advertising. They had created fake invoices and websites claiming that the goods were supplied by legitimate companies.
Unfortunately, the agreement never came to fruition. According to the complaint, law enforcement confiscated the designated $868,000 that was intended for a down payment on a spacious 4,700-square-foot home.
The Edwards had put in a hefty sum for the property, and only $868,000 was needed to complete the purchase. With this alleged scheme, they were attempting to use Covid relief funds to finance the remainder of their purchase.
Billy Carson & Ron Taylor "Meet the Snows"
About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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