A Florida pastor and his son have been arrested on charges that they used the COVID-19 relief fund to steal millions of dollars.
WESH 2 heard from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that Evan Edwards and his son Josh Edwards were arrested at their home in New Smyrna Beach on Wednesday morning. This comes five months after an NBC News story raised questions about why they hadn’t been charged in the alleged scam, which federal prosecutors first mentioned in court papers in December 2020.
A video shows how the two people were caught. Evan Edwards is in a wheelchair, and the video shows agents pushing him.
Federal investigators say that the father and son stole more than $8 million from COVID-19 relief money in 2020 by setting up a fake ministry. This was previously reported by WESH 2.
Last year, the money was taken back by the Justice Department. This week, the two were taken to federal court in Orlando after being arrested. The charge was filed last week, and it was made public on Wednesday.
The indictment says that the father and son “submitted a fraudulent PPP loan application” in which they said their ministry had “average monthly payroll expenses” of over $2.7 million and over 480 employees. The federal government says that in reality, these numbers were “significantly lower or nonexistent.”
- Why Was Brittney Griner Arrested: Is She Targeted In Drugs Case Arrest?
- Uber Rider Arrested for Bank Robbery in Florida
The indictment also said that the two lied when they said they would use the money for legal business expenses when they actually planned to use it for other things. For example, investigators said they planned to use some of the money for a down payment on a $3.5 million mansion in a nice neighborhood near Disney World.
Both of the Edwards are charged with visa fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Josh Edwards is also accused of telling a lending institution a lie. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that each of these counts, except for visa fraud, can get you up to 30 years in prison.
Evan and Josh Edwards were taken to the federal courthouse in Orlando after they were arrested. On Wednesday afternoon, a judge was to see them there. But that didn’t work out as expected.
Evan Edwards’ public defender told the judge in court that he wouldn’t get back into the wheelchair for medical reasons and that he didn’t seem to be able to talk. The judge told the U.S. Marshals to take him to a place where he could get medical care.
Josh Edwards, on the other hand, did show up before the judge. But the lawyer the judge chose for him told the judge that he couldn’t talk to him either.
Josh Edwards was in court when Judge David Baker tried to talk to him directly. He asked him things like, “Can you hear me?” and “Do you understand what I’m saying?” Josh Edwards didn’t answer and instead looked around the room. Josh Edwards was told to see a psychiatrist by the judge. But the lawyer for the U.S. government said Josh Edwards spoke and talked to agents “just fine” hours before.
The Edwards family came to court to show their support, but they did not want to say anything about the accusations.