Feds: Family used phony Orlando ministry to obtain $8.7 million in COVID relief funds

As Congress rushed to get money to businesses struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal agents say one family took advantage of the relief funds, swindling $8.4 million from taxpayers.

"It absolutely should have raised red flags," said U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Florida.  "It should have been caught."

According to investigators, ASLAN International Ministry, which has an office address listed on Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, requested $6.9 million through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) back in April. In May, they got $8.4 million.

Agents say the ministry was set up and run by one family. They say once they did some digging, they found the ministry’s office empty, their website generic and their bank records phony.

According to court documents, some of the PPP money they obtained was even used to try and buy a $3.7 million home near Disney.   

"It’s really a shame since we had a responsibility to get out paycheck protection program funding to so many deserving small businesses who used it appropriately. To see someone try to take advantage of the process… they will get their consequences because of that," said U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Florida.

The government says it’s seized more than $7 million in funds tied to the suspects.

With another COVID relief bill on the horizon, FOX 35 News is asking lawmakers how they are trying to prevent this from happening again.

"We’re working on this next coronavirus package to address some of those issues. We're gonna reduce the size of the businesses from 500 to 300. And there’s going to be some means testing, meaning you have to show your books and revenue loss," Waltz said.

Investigators say they tried interviewing the family at their home in New Smyrna Beach but it had been cleared out. They say pulled them over the next day on the highway. Agents say they found electronics and bags of shredded documents.

Still, the department of justice says no one has been charged as of yet.

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest coronavirus news.