According to federal court records, federal agents recently seized at least $8.4 million in COVID-19 relief funds from a family-operated ‘ministry’ in Florida that appeared to be fraudulent.
The US Secret Service found the funds in bank accounts connected to the ASLAN International Ministry, which is a nonprofit organization based in Orlando that scored a large loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), according to federal prosecutors this week.
Family Allegedly Funneled PPP Funds To Buy Lavish Home
In federal documents, federal prosecutors explained how the family behind the charity funneled the relief money through several checking accounts and tried to use a portion to buy a multimillion-dollar house in a development near Disney World. However, federal authorities caught them fleeing the state in a vehicle filled with documents.
Court filings stated that the family attempting the fraud attempted to hide the source, nature, and location of the fraud proceeds by moving the cash through several bank accounts in different names.
An individual named Joshua Edwards submitted the nonprofit’s application for a PPP loan in April 2020. He claimed the religious nonprofit was a busy operation with almost 500 employees and $52 million in revenue in 2019.
According to Florida business records, Joshua Edwards was ASLAN’s vice president; his father, Evan Edwards, president and chairman; and his sister, Joy Edwards, the secretary.
After the PPP loan was approved, the funds were wired to two Wells Fargo accounts under the father and his son’s name. The funds were transferred through three Bank of America accounts that showed the daughter as the sole account holder.
ASLAN Was Approved for the PPP Loan in May 2020
The nonprofit group received approval for the $8.4 million loan in May after it turned in an application that was handled by an accounting company with the same physical address as ASLAN.
However, according to federal prosecutors, no one answered a locked door at the ASLAN headquarters when federal agents visited in September. There was a sign with the nonprofit’s name over the door, the other tenants in the building said they had not seen anyone enter or leave the office.
The ASLAN website was deactivated a few days after federal agents visited the office. The website had only generic business information believed to have been copied from other websites and posed as their own information. The links on the site allowing users to give donations or seek employment were inactive.
$3.7 Million of PPP Money Used to Buy Luxury Home
The PPP funds went through several bank accounts connected to the Edwards family in June through September. About $868,000 of the money ended up in a Royal Bank of Canada bank account under the name of Mary Edwards, who is the wife of Evan Edwards.
That money was sent to another bank to buy a $3.7 million house in a part of Disney World’s Golden Oak development. Mary Edwards was the only person listed on the contract for the home.
Federal authorities seized the funds for the super expensive home and the rest of the PPP money on Sept. 16. That was the same day they went to the Edwards family home outside Orlando.
The home had been emptied, and no people or vehicles were at the residence.
SEE ALSO: PPP Fraud Laws & Charges
The next day, Florida state police stopped the Edwardses’ vehicle for speeding. They found all four family members in the car, federal prosecutors said. Evan Edwards said they were going to a Texas conference. However, according to federal documents, the car was stuffed with luggage and a lot of evidence, including laptops, tablets, and computer hard drives.
The police said Evan Edwards was in the front passenger seat with a laser printer in his lap. In the rear passenger compartment, there were garbage bags with shredded documents. Several suitcases were in the rear cargo area, as well as a document shredder.
Also found in the car were several credit cards and gift cards, as well as a written note from a bank that the Department of Homeland Security had frozen their bank accounts.
This PPP fraud case is one of the latest of many as federal law enforcement is cracking down on massive fraud in the program, which has led to at least 80 arrests related to $240 million in fraud. The Secret Service alone has at least 700 pending PPP fraud cases.
While the federal investigation is pending and no arrests have been reported, court filing details showed how simple it was for the family to get approved for a PPP loan.
The CARES Act authorized $350 billion in forgivable loans from the Small Business Association through PPP. Still, far too many criminals seem to be attempting to take advantage of the easy-to-obtain taxpayer funds.
- Feds Seize $8.4 Million From Florida Ministry in PPP Fraud Case. Accessed at https://nypost.com/2020/12/17/feds-seize-8-4m-from-florida-ministry-in-ppp-fraud-case/
- Feds Seize Millions in PPP Funds From International Ministry. Accessed at https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/16/feds-seize-millions-in-ppp-funds-from-international-ministry-.html