A Florida pastor and his son, accused of stealing more than $8 million of COVID relief funds, suddenly went “non-verbal when facing the judge Wednesday.
Evan Edwards, 64, and his son Joshua Edwards, 30, were taken into custody Wednesday at their home in New Smyrna, Florida, about 50 miles northeast of Orlando.
They are accused of attempting to steal more than $8 million dollars in funds through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was launched as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES ACT).
According to the unsealed indictment, the father and son “submitted a fraudulent PPP loan application” where they falsely claimed their ministry had “average monthly payroll expenses” of over $2.7 million and over 480 employees.
But, according to the federal government, those numbers were “significantly lower, or entirely nonexistent.”
The indictment added that the pair falsely certified that they would use the money for authorized business expenses.
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Instead, they intended to use it in other ways, including a down payment for a $3.5 million mansion in an exclusive neighborhood near Disney World.
After they were arrested on Wednesday, Evan and Josh Edwards were taken to the federal courthouse in Orlando, where they were scheduled to appear before a judge Wednesday afternoon, and that’s where things went downhill.
In court, Evan Edwards’ public defender told the judge that the man would not get back into the wheelchair because of medical concerns and that he appeared to be nonverbal.
The judge ordered the U.S. Marshals to take him to a medical facility.
Meanwhile, Josh Edwards did appear before the judge. But his appointed attorney also told the judge that he was not able to communicate with him either.
Judge David Baker tried to talk directly to Josh Edwards in the courtroom, by asking him questions like, “Can you hear me?” and “Do you understand what I’m saying?” Josh Edwards did not respond but instead looked around the room.
The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Josh Edwards, according to reports.
But, the attorney for the U.S. government said Josh Edwards spoke and interacted “just fine” with agents hours earlier.
“We’re interested to hear the full story. It’s just totally out of character for a man of God, supposedly,” a cousin told NBC News.
“He stole money during a pandemic,” a neighbor told NBC. “He stole it in the name of God. That makes you the worst scuzz on the face of the Earth.”