Florida pastor accused of Covid rip-off slammed by ex-associate’s son

Florida pastor accused of Covid rip-off slammed by ex-associate’s son

Walter Gnida, a retired truck driver and part-time accountant, was 88 years previous and affected by dementia when his identify appeared on a mortgage utility from a Christian ministry looking for tens of millions of {dollars} in federal Covid aid cash. 

The appliance was filed by Josh Edwards, whose father, Evan Edwards, was the chief of ASLAN Worldwide Ministry based mostly in Florida. 

The Edwardses finally bought a boatload of help cash: $8.4 million. However they’re now in federal custody and going through a number of counts of fraud — in addition to the ire of Walter Gnida’s household.

“It’s an utter betrayal,” his son, Kevin Gnida, mentioned in an interview from his dwelling in Edmonton, Canada.

Kevin Gnida mentioned his late father lionized Evan Edwards, a fellow evangelical Christian who spent years handing out bibles in Turkey however would have by no means knowingly signed off on paperwork that vastly overstated the scale of ASLAN Worldwide.

“I do know with one hundred pc confidence that my dad would have by no means participated on this,” Kevin Gnida added. “I’m glad they bought caught.”

Evan, 64, and Josh Edwards, 30, had been arrested at their dwelling in New Smyrna Seashore, Florida, on Dec. 14.

Florida pastor accused of Covid rip-off slammed by ex-associate’s son
Josh Edwards is taken into custody outdoors the Edwards household’s dwelling in New Smyrna Seashore, Fla., on Wednesday.Obtained by NBC Information

The Paycheck Safety Program mortgage utility had mentioned ASLAN Worldwide employed 486 individuals and had a median month-to-month payroll of $2.7 million. However federal prosecutors mentioned in an indictment that Evan and Josh Edwards knew that ASLAN’s precise variety of workers and precise month-to-month payroll bills had been “considerably decrease, or totally nonexistent.”

The Edwardses had sought to make use of among the cash they obtained from the federal authorities to purchase a $3.7 million, 4,700-square-foot dwelling in a brand new Disney World improvement referred to as Golden Oaks. However the deal by no means went by, and authorities finally recovered all the Covid help cash. 

The 2 males had been charged with a complete of six counts, together with financial institution fraud and making a false assertion to a lending company. 

“Unhealthy actors will reap the benefits of the great will that has been constructed up over generations, and it’s necessary to root them out,” mentioned Warren Smith, president of the evangelical Christian watchdog Ministry Watch.

Evan and Josh Edwards’ first courtroom look didn’t go easily.

Evan Edwards failed to point out up as a result of he’s sick and refused to get in his wheelchair whereas in a courtroom holding cell, his lawyer advised the decide. Josh Edwards remained silent through the listening to, even when the decide requested him a collection of primary questions, in response to a transcript obtained by NBC Information.

A decide ordered the daddy and son to stay in custody pending the completion of medical and psychiatric exams. 

Form and trusting

Walter Gnida’s identify got here to the eye of federal authorities after they started investigating ASLAN Worldwide in 2020. He was recognized on the mortgage utility because the group’s accountant and had purportedly signed off on the knowledge contained inside it. 

Canadian authorities appearing on the U.S.’s request tracked down Gnida in September 2020. He remained silent and unresponsive as his son advised investigators his father and Evan Edwards had identified one another for years, however Gnida now suffered from dementia and hadn’t achieved any work for ASLAN since no less than 2017, in response to prosecutors.

Kevin Gnida mentioned his father was severely diminished when the native authorities confirmed up asking about Evan Edwards. The son mentioned he couldn’t say whether or not his father had really signed his identify on the mortgage utility type however had the ailing, aged man achieved so he wouldn’t have understood what he was really signing. 

“He was bodily and mentally declining,” Kevin Gnida mentioned.

Walter Gnida died in January 2022. His son described him as a deeply spiritual man who was variety and trusting virtually to a fault.

Walter Gnida had begun doing mild accounting work later in life after taking an H&R Block tax course. Most of his purchasers had been truck drivers and farmers who had been buddies or buddies of buddies. There have been additionally just a few small Christian organizations, Kevin Gnida mentioned.

“No person got here to my dad as a result of they’d cash,” he mentioned. “They got here to my dad as a result of they’d no cash.”

Joy Edwards, Evan and Mary Jane Edwards, and Josh Edwards.
Pleasure Edwards, Evan and Mary Jane Edwards, and Josh Edwards.through Fb

He added that his father significantly admired Evan Edwards, who had achieved missionary work in Turkey within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineteen Nineties. Edwards grew up in Canada as Ian Heringa however modified his identify after his household’s proselytizing within the predominantly Muslim nation made him a goal. 

“He’d say they’re religious people who find themselves placing their life on the road to share the gospel,” Kevin Gnida mentioned of his father. “He spoke very extremely of him.”

Kevin Gnida mentioned he and his brother didn’t view Evan Edwards in the identical mild. And he thinks even much less of the person now. 

“It’s horribly disappointing,” he mentioned. “There is no such thing as a ethics or sense of proper or mistaken there in any respect.”