Leaders of a fraudulent ministry are being charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and visa fraud after spending millions in COVID-19 pandemic relief funds for a down payment on a mansion in Central Florida.
Evan Edwards, 64, and his son, Joshua Edwards, 30, are facing six counts of charges related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and visa fraud.
According to the indictment, Edwards and his son submitted a fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan application to a lending institution on behalf of Aslan International Ministry, a "not-for-profit corporation that purportedly provided religious services."
Prosecutors said false claims were made in the application, such as a report that ASLAN had 486 employees even though the actual number of employees was "significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent," The Christian Post reports.
ASLAN also falsely reported that they had average monthly payroll expenses of more than $2.7 million, a number that was much lower or "entirely nonexistent."
Edwards and his son received some $8.4 million in loan proceeds from their false application.
"The purpose of PPP loans was to help small businesses that were suffering from economic downturn to continue to pay salary or wages to their employees," the DOJ statement reads.
"The Department of Justice remains vigilant in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the crisis."
Both men are facing a maximum punishment of 30 years in prison if convicted and another maximum sentence of 10 years per count if found guilty of visa fraud.
Joshua also faces an additional maximum penalty of 30 years in prison if found guilty of a false statement offense.
According to reports, their ministry was launched in 2005 in Ohio, and in 2018 they filed an application to conduct business in Florida as a foreign nonprofit. Joshua was listed as president, and his father was listed as vice president. Other family members were also listed as staff.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Caspar Benson
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.