A family-run ‘ministry’ in Florida has been accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $8.4million in pandemic-related loans, which they allegedly planned to put towards a new home in Disney World before fleeing to Canada.
Prosecutors say ASLAN International Ministry in Orlando allegedly used false documents to obtain the funds through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program in April.
The loan program was created as part of the CARES ACT earlier this year to provide relief to small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
According to a federal court filing on Monday, ASLAN Vice President Joshua Edwards initially applied for a $6.91million loan, using documents to paint the church as a successful organization that had $51million in revenue last year.
The Edwards family is accused of fraudulently obtaining $8.4million in PPP loans through their church, ASLAN International Ministry, based in Orlando, Florida
The church was reportedly founded in 2005 in Ohio, but later applied to conduct business as a foreign nonprofit organization in Florida in 2018
Business records show ASLAN operated as a family-run nonprofit ‘foreign ministry’ with father Evan Edwards as chairman and president, son Josh as VP, and daughter Joy as secretary. Edwards’s wife Mary Jane was also listed in court documents.
The family’s request was approved in May for a total of $8.4million, but the money was later funneled into several different bank accounts, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Secret Service agents investigating the fraudulent activity later found the accounts belonged to Joshua, Joy and Evan, all of which had a mere $100 before the deposit.
‘The perpetrators of the fraud attempted to conceal the source, nature and location of the bank fraud proceeds by moving the proceeds through numerous bank accounts, held in different names,’ prosecutors said in a filing.
The US government in September seized more than $5.6million from one Bank of America account, along with $1.8million from a second BoA account.
Investigators also found another $868,250 that had been deposited into a First American Trust FSB account under First American Title insurance company.
That money was being put towards a $3.71million home in Disney World’s Golden Oak resort, prosecutors allege.
That same month, Secret Service Agents visited the address associated with the organization but found no one there.
They then obtained a search warrant on September 16 to try to locate the family at their home in New Smyrna Beach, only to find it had been cleared out with no signs of the Edwardses.
Neighbors told the agents they last saw the family on September 8, when Evan and Josh had asked if they had been interviewed by investigators.
Authorities later found the ministry’s website, which contained generic information from other sites, was taken down around September 12.
The Edwardses were believed to have fled after they learned investigators had caught wind of their alleged scheme.
The Edwardes were reportedly planning to buy a $3.71million home in Disney World’s Golden Oak resort (pictured) before they fled the country
The next day, Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement located the family traveling on the I-75 highway where they were pulled over for speeding.
The family allegedly told cops they were on their way to a conference in Texas but did not provide further details, according the prosecutors.
Investigators later obtained a search warrant for the car, where they found bags of shredded documents as well as suitcases and several laptops and tablets.
‘In the rear passenger seat were two clear garbage bags containing what appeared to be shredded documents. In the rear cargo area, multiple suitcases were stacked from floor to the ceiling, along with a document shredder,’ documents stated..
The shredder had been bought just two hours after agents visited the family’s home in New Smyrna, according to the report.
Further investigation would also show the family’s church was not a legitimate organization.
The ministry was reportedly founded in 2005 in Ohio, but later applied to conduct businesses as a foreign nonprofit organization in Florida in 2018, according to Click Orlando.
Authorities also found the family had applied for COVID assistance in Canada where they were given $2,000 each.
The family is believed to be in Canada where they are also under investigation.
No charges have been filed against the family so far.