Police in Florida have arrested a pastor and his son on charges of fraudulently obtaining more than $8m in federal Covid relief funds and attempting to use some of the money to buy a luxury home near Walt Disney World in Orlando. 

Evan Edwards and Josh Edwards were arrested on their family home in New Smyrna Beach on  Wednesday morning.

While police wheeled Evan out of the house in a wheelchair, 30-year-old Josh was escorted into a law enforcement vehicle with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Sources familiar with the case said it dates to April 2020.

Then Josh Edwards applied for a $6m Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to cover payroll, rent and utilities for his family’s ministry. 

According to a federal forfeiture complaint, in the loan application, he claimed that the organization – ASLAN International Ministry – had 486 employees and a monthly payroll of $2.7m.

Following the application, a loan of $8.4m was approved for ASLAN International.

The Evans family: from left, son Josh, Pastor Evan, wife Mary Jane and daughter Joy.via Facebook

The complaint added that when federal investigators showed up at the ministry’s office, the door was under lock and key with workers at the neighboring businesses telling them nobody was ever seen inside.

There were other things that didn’t add up.

Federal prosecutors said in court papers that a review of the ministry’s website found that the donation links were inactive and sections of text were apparently lifted from other religious websites, adding that the man who was listed on the loan application as the ministry’s accountant suffered from dementia and had not worked for the organization since 2017, citing an interview with the man’s son.

According to a six-count indictment filed in the Middle District of Florida and unsealed Wednesday, the father and son knew that ASLAN’s actual number of employees as well as actual monthly payroll expenses were “significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent,” but they chose to make a series of false claims in their PPP loan application – including that ASLAN International had 486 employees and average monthly payroll expenses of $2.7m.

The Edwards – who originally came from Canada – are no strangers to trouble with the law.

The family did missionary work in Turkey for many years before moving to Florida in 2019, settling in a newly built community about an hour’s drive from Orlando. 

In September 2020, federal agents showed up at the home to execute a search warrant but found nobody at the place because it had been “cleared out,” according to the civil forfeiture complaint.

Later that evening, Florida police officers pulled over the family’s Mercedes SUV which, according to a police report, was speeding on I-75 north of Gainesville. 

When Federal agents arrived on the scene, they found bags of shredded documents in the vehicle in addition to suitcases full of financial records.

The civil forfeiture complaint said they also found electronic devices stuffed into Faraday bags, enabling them to block radio frequencies to keep them from being tracked. 

The family was taken into custody on an unrelated immigration charge.

Court records show they were released the following day when the case was dismissed.

In April 2021, a federal judge in Florida ordered the forfeiture of the $8.4m Edwards family received after the government claimed that it was the proceeds from bank fraud and money laundering offenses. 

The family did not challenge the seizure.

The complaint said they tried to use a portion of the money to purchase a $3.7m home in a new Disney World development called Golden Oaks, adding that the deal never went through because authorities seized the $868,000 that was set aside for the down payment on the 4,700-square-foot home.


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