Feds Seize $8.4M From Fake Florida Ministry in PPP Fraud Case (Dreamstime)
By Marisa Herman | Thursday, 17 December 2020 04:32 PM
A phony family run "ministry" in Florida is out $8.4 million after the feds found out the ministry was fake, the New York Post reports.
According to court records, the feds took the relief funds back after the Secret Service found the money in various bank accounts linked to ASLAN International Ministry, an Orlando-based nonprofit that obtained a large loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
A Monday federal court filing revealed how the family behind ASLAN funneled the PPP money through several bank accounts and tried to use some of it to buy a multimillion-dollar home before they were caught trying to leave the state.
"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," the filing states.
According to the feds, a man named Joshua Edwards submitted ASLAN's application for a PPP loan in early April, claiming the religious nonprofit had 486 employees and nearly $52 million in revenue last year.
Florida business records listed Joshua Edwards as ASLAN's vice president; his father, Evan Edwards, as president and chairman; and his sister, Joy Edwards, as the secretary, according to the filing.
According to prosecutors, ASLAN was approved for a loan of more than $8.4 million in May after submitting an application that was reportedly handled by an accounting firm with the same address as the nonprofit.
When federal agents went to visit the address in September, no one answered the locked door. Tenants at the property said they had not seen anyone coming in or out of the office, which had a sign for ASLAN above the door. The group's website was deactivated a few days after the agents' visit, the filing states.
The PPP money was distributed to various bank accounts linked to the Edwards family in June, July, August and September, officials said. About $868,250 of it landed in a Royal Bank of Canada account under the name of Mary Jane Edwards, who is Evan Edwards' wife, according to the filing.
Some of the money was allegedly sent to a different bank in order to purchase a $3.7 million house on Orlando's Symphony Grove Drive, which is part of Disney World's Golden Oak development. According to the feds, Mary Jane Edwards was the only person on the purchase contract for the home.
The Secret Service seized the money for the house and the rest of the PPP funds Sept. 16, the same day they visited the Edwards family home, court records say.
"The residence appeared to have been cleared out, and no persons or vehicles were located at the residence," the filing reads.
The following day, Florida's Department of Law Enforcement stopped their car for speeding and found all four family members inside, prosecutors said. Evan Edwards told authorities they were heading to a conference in Texas. The filing states the car was filled with luggage, laptops, tablets, and hard drives.
"Evan was in the front passenger seat with an opened box containing a laser printer on his lap," the feds wrote. "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."