In early July, NBC News filed a report about a Florida pastor and his family, accused by federal prosecutors in late 2020 court papers of pulling off a big-bucks COVID relief scam. "Why haven't they been charged?" the news outlet asked regarding the "curious" case. That question has now been partly addressed: WESH reports that the pastor, Evan Edwards, and his son, 30-year-old Josh Edwards, were arrested Wednesday at their New Smyrna Beach residence, on charges of committing fraud to get their hands on more than $8 million in COVID relief funds. A video on WESH shows the two men being arrested, the older man being pushed in a wheelchair by agents. A source tells NBC that it was that outlet's reporting that caused law enforcement to turn their attention more fully toward the Edwards family.
Per an April 2021 release from the US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, Josh Edwards applied a year prior for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the Small Business Administration, claiming the money was necessary to cover payroll, rent, and other expenses during the pandemic for his family's ministry, ASLAN International Ministry. The ministry, which was said to have nearly 500 employees, was approved for an $8.4 million loan—the only problem being, the ministry didn't actually exist, as federal investigators discovered when they showed up at its supposed Orlando offices and found them locked and devoid of workers.
The release notes that "members of the Edwards family" used $3.7 million of the funds to try to buy a luxury home in a new Disney World development, although that deal never transpired. The remaining money was "transferred among multiple bank accounts ... in an attempt to hide and conceal their whereabouts," per the release, which notes the DOJ has since recouped the stolen funds. Federal agents showed up at the family's home in September 2020 with a search warrant, but the residence had been "cleared out," per a civil forfeiture complaint cited by NBC.
Cops say they pulled over the family later that night for speeding and "found bags of shredded documents in the vehicle," as well as financial records. The family, which had done missionary work in Turkey, was taken into custody on an immigration charge, but the case was dismissed the next day, per court records. This time around, the father and son were hit with a half-dozen charges, including bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and visa fraud, with a max sentence of 30 years on the first two charges. (Read more pastor stories.)