Evan Edwards and his son Joshua Edwards of Florida were arrested Wednesday on federal fraud charges. Federal prosecutors said they defrauded a COVID-19 business relief program out of $8.4 million and attempted to buy a home near Disney World worth millions, court filings show.
The pair ran Aslan International Ministry Inc., a nonprofit that “purportedly provided religious services,” according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said in April 2020 the ministry submitted a fraudulent loan application to the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to offer forgivable loans to help businesses cover payroll and other expenses to stay afloat during the pandemic, and eventually obtained $8,417,200 in PPP funds.
Secret Service agents executed a search warrant in the fall of 2020 on the Edwards’ family home, an hour northeast of Orlando, and discovered it was completely empty, said in the complaint.
The next day, members of the Edwards family, including Evan and Joshua, were pulled over for speeding on a Florida highway.
The family told the officer they were on their way to Texas for a conference.
The car was packed with suitcases, a Faraday bag containing laptops and tablets, two clear garbage bags filled with shredded documents and a document shredder, according to the complaint.
Authorities eventually obtained a search warrant for the items in the car.
A forensic exam revealed the seized electronics “saved media reports of SBA fraud cases involving religious organizations and media articles pertaining to recent SBA loan fraud investigations” and other evidence, according to the complaint.
The funds funds werew seized by authorities in late 2020.
A federal judge ordered the forfeiture of the $8.4 million in April 2021, according to a Department of Justice news release, which also accused Mary and Joy of defrauding the government. But the Edwards family, as NBC News reported last year, somehow managed to escape criminal prosecution, even as the DOJ began cracking down on similar PPP loan fraud cases.
The father and son face six federal counts, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud and visa fraud.