A Florida pastor and his son are accused of doing very unholy things.
Earlier this morning, Pastor Evan Edwards and his son Josh, 30, were arrested for coughing up $8 million from taxpayers in a COVID-19 relief scam. Police made the arrest at the Edwards’ home in New Smyrna Beach. The elder Evans was pushed into a wheelchair.
A Florida pastor and his son have been arrested 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 Disney World . https://t.co/fwvoPoz7XX
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 14, 2022
The Edwards are Christian missionaries from Canada who moved to Florida in 2019. They ran an organization called ASLAN International Ministry.
According to an indictment that has been unsealed today, Josh Edwards “filed a fraudulent PPP loan application” on behalf of ASLAN International Ministry for $6 million, claiming that their ministry had “average monthly labor costs” of more than $2.7 million and more than 480 employees. In reality, according to prosecutors, those numbers were “significantly lower or non-existent at all.”
Still, in 2020, the government finally approved ASLAN International for an $8.4 million loan.
Related: I went to jail for SBA loan fraud: 7 things to know when taking COVID-19 relief money
A long investigation
The Edwards case dates back to April 2020, when investigators began to see some red flags surrounding the loan.
For example, the accountant who would have engaged the ministry suffered from dementia and had not done any work for the organization since 2017, according to one investigation by NBC News.
Later, when Florida Highway Patrol stopped the Edwards family as they sped north on I-75, they discovered garbage bags full of shredded documents and electronic devices wrapped in what is known as a Faraday bag, which blocks radio frequencies.
Police also found a 49-page investigative manual published by the Bureau of Justice titled “Tracing Money Flows Through Financial Institutions.”
Despite NBC’s evidence and damning report, it took 18 months to file charges in the case.
But today Evan Edwards and his son Josh were taken to the federal courthouse in Orlando, where they appeared before a judge. According to Josh Edwards, he appeared disoriented and refused to answer the judge’s questions WESH-2 News. The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation.
Meanwhile, the community response has been a mix of shock and outrage.
“We’re interested to hear the full story. It’s just completely uncharacteristic of a man of God, so to speak,” a cousin told NBC News.
Some neighbors were less forgiving.
“He stole money during a pandemic,” a neighbor told NBC. “He stole it in the name of God. That makes you the worst scuzz on earth.”