A Florida man and his son—who had allegedly used their Christian nonprofit to bilk the U.S. government out of $8 million in COVID relief funds—were arrested this week on multiple charges of fraud and conspiracy.
On Wednesday, federal officers took Evan Edwards, 64, and his son, Joshua Edwards, 30, into custody at their home in New Smyrna Beach on the Florida coast. Federal prosecutors charged the Edwardses with counts of bank fraud, visa fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Joshua Edwards was also charged with making false statements to a lending institution.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, each of those counts (except visa fraud) carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
The indictment, which was filed last week and unsealed Wednesday, alleges that the Edwardses committed fraud under the guise of a faith-based charity they run. ASLAN International, which Evan Edwards originally founded in 2005, says its mission is to “communicate Christian love in doctrine and service to the poor.”
Prior to the Edwardses moving to Florida in 2019, ASLAN International operated for several years as a Christian missions group to Turkey. “Aslan” is the Turkish word for “lion,” and the brand name has resonance with evangelicals worldwide due to the lion “Aslan” being a Christ figure in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia novels.
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In spring 2020, as the COVID pandemic was rising, the Edwardses allegedly submitted a false loan application to the newly established federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The federal government awarded the Edwardses $8.4 million in PPP loans—meant to help struggling businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
The nonprofit’s “fraudulent PPP loan application” allegedly listed “average monthly payroll expenses” of over $2.7 million and 486 employees. The indictment claims the nonprofit staff was “significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent.”
The Edwardses also certified that they would use the received PPP funds for payroll, utilities, and other nonprofit expenses. But court documents reveal they nearly bought a $3.7 million home in the upscale Golden Oak development on Walt Disney World property near Orlando.
Last year, before the home sale closed, Secret Service agents seized millions in funds from bank accounts belonging to ASLAN International. A federal civil complaint filed in December 2020 also named Evan’s wife, Mary Ann Edwards, and daughter, Joy Edwards, as involved in the scheme. The have not been charged.
The Roys Report (TRR) reached out to an attorney for Joshua Edwards, but did not hear back.
Inexplicable behavior by alleged fraudsters
Court documents and reporting reveal the Edwardses have demonstrated inexplicable conduct in response to authorities’ actions—including this week.
When father and son were arrested and taken to the federal courthouse, a local reporter described how it “did not go as planned.” The elder Edwards, who came from his home in a wheelchair, refused to be wheeled into the courtroom before the judge “for medical reasons” and was ordered to be taken to a medical facility.
His 30-year-old son also became “nonverbal” and did not respond to questions from the judge. He was ordered a psychiatric evaluation. Local outlet WESH noted: “However, the Assistant U.S. Attorney said Josh Edwards spoke and interacted ‘just fine’ with agents hours earlier.”
Two years prior, authorities faced other abnormal conduct from the Edwardses when they began to investigate alleged fraud. In September 2020, soon after agents contacted the Edwardses to interview them, they found the family’s Florida residence deserted.
Authorities located Evan and Joshua Edwards, who had fled in their Mercedes SUV, speeding on an interstate. Law and Crime reported what authorities found when they pulled them over, using an excerpt from the indictment. It “sounds like something out of a movie, complete with a bag used for concealing signals from mobile devices” stated the legal publication:
“Evan was in the front passenger seat with an opened box containing a laser printer on his lap. Also in plain view was an open, dark colored Faraday bag containing what appeared to be multiple laptops and tablets. In the rear passenger seat were two clear garbage bags containing what appeared to be shredded documents.”
The trunk contained “a shredder with a receipt showing it was purchased hours after U.S. Secret Service agents had tried to interview the Edwardses at their home.”
As previously reported by TRR, last year, the Edwardses emailed past supporters of their ministry to solicit donations only months after federal officials had recovered millions. The ministry email claimed “948 salvations so far” from the family’s prayer and preaching activities.
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.