The mystery over the health of a Florida pastor accused in a Covid relief scam has deepened after a court-ordered psychiatrist prepared a report suggesting he may be faking some of his symptoms.

The pastor, Evan Edwards, has been hospitalized since December when he and his son were arrested on charges of fraudulently obtaining $8 million in pandemic loans for a phony ministry.

A judge ordered a psychiatrist to examine Edwards, 64, after he refused to participate in his first court appearance and muttered incoherently at a subsequent one. But the psychiatrist, Dr. Ryan Hall, was unable to shed much light on the pastor’s health.

Edwards was «unable or unwilling» to contact the psychiatrist, Magistrate Judge Leslie Hoffman Price said at a court hearing on Jan. 26, according to a transcript obtained by NBC News.

Hall ultimately determined that Edwards was not fit to stand trial. But the judge said there were questions about whether the accused fraudster was faking illness.

“I know there is a suggestion of possible simulation in some aspects, but there are medical issues that are completely verifiable,” Price said.

The judge offered no further details because the details of Edwards’ health problems, as well as Hall’s report, are still under wraps. Hall concluded that Edwards was not competent after spending just 15 minutes with him.

Hall «was unable to determine if this is a medical or mental issue or some combination thereof,» Price said.

Edwards’ court-appointed attorney, Brian Phillips, told the judge that he thought the report was inconsistent and raised more questions than answers. He said that he believed the issue should be resolved at a competition hearing.

“I cannot take Dr. Hall’s report at face value,” Phillips added.

The judge then raised the question of how to proceed with a detention hearing with Edwards’s mental fitness in question. He asked Phillips if he could contact his client.

«Only in the most limited way, your honor,» Phillips replied.

He said Edwards has only communicated in «monosyllabic responses or gestures to simple binary questions.»

«I can tell from that that he would rather not be handcuffed, ankle and wrist, than the hospital bed he’s been in since December,» Phillips said. «Of that I’m sure».

A competition hearing is expected to take place later this month.

Phillips did not respond to a request for comment.

Edwards was in a wheelchair when federal agents arrested him and his son, Josh, 30, at his home in New Smyrna Beach, where his wife and daughter also lived. They each face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the higher charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

In the initial court appearance, a lawyer for Josh Edwards told the judge that he was having trouble communicating with his client, prompting the judge to ask a series of basic questions, including: ‘Are you in pain?’ Josh Edwards didn’t say a word and the judge ordered a psychiatric exam.

But then a prosecutor intervened, noting that the officers who arrested him earlier that day said he was «very well spoken and responsive.»

If the Edwardses were faking illness or exaggerating symptoms, it wouldn’t be the first time the accused criminals had done it to avoid prison.

In perhaps the most famous case, mobster Vincent «The Chin» Gigante delayed his racketeering trial for years by acting strangely, a move that earned him a second nickname, «Oddfather.»

Reputed crime boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante is escorted to a waiting car on his way to attend court in his federal racketeering trial in New York in 1997.
Reputed crime boss Vincent «The Chin» Gigante is escorted to a waiting car on his way to attend court at his federal racketeering trial in New York in 1997.Jon Levy/AFP via Getty Images

The arrest of Edwards and his son came more than two years after federal agents showed up at the home to conduct a search.

Later that day in September 2020, Florida police officers stopped the family’s Mercedes SUV as it headed north on a highway in central Florida, about 150 miles from the family’s home, according to a report. police report.

Evan Edwards, sitting in the front passenger seat, had a laser printer on his lap. In the back passenger seat, next to his wife and daughter, were two clear garbage bags filled with shredded documents, according to the civil forfeiture complaint.

The family’s personal electronic devices were encased in a Faraday bag, which blocks radio frequencies to prevent the devices from being tracked.

There were also suitcases filled with financial records, two other Faraday bags with laptops and tablets inside, a document shredder, and several backpacks containing external hard drives and USB drives, the complaint says.

The Edwardses were detained but released the next day.

Pastor Evan Edwards and his daughter, Joy, pray for people at a drive-thru in undated video.
Pastor Evan Edwards and his daughter, Joy, pray for people at a drive-thru in undated video.The Roys Report

The case centers on a $6 million Paycheck Protection Program loan submitted by Josh Edwards to cover payroll, rent and utilities for his family’s religious organization, ASLAN International Ministry.

The documents said that ASLAN had 486 employees and a monthly payroll of $2.7 million. ASLAN International was finally approved for a loan of $8.4 million.

But federal investigators later found that its offices had been abandoned, its website donation links disabled, and its payroll expenses and income «significantly lower or completely absent,» according to a civil forfeiture complaint.

The family had tried to use the money to buy a $3.7 million, 4,700-square-foot home in a new Disney World development called Golden Oaks, according to prosecutors.

But the deal never materialized. Authorities seized the $868,000 that had been set aside for the down payment.

In court late last month, a prosecutor said the government believes Edwards poses a serious flight risk and would oppose his release to home confinement.

“This is a difficult situation and set of facts, but there is a history of flight, and family was involved in that, the same family that would take care of him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kara Wick told the judge, according to the judge. transcription.

The US Marshals Service has been working with Orange County officials to find a local correctional facility that can accommodate Edwards due to his complex medical issues.

He was released from the hospital in December, but all detention centers in the area have refused to house him, prosecutors said in a February 3 court filing.

According to an Orange County jail health official, Edwards requires “total daily care,” consisting of “intervention at least every hour to two hours; and assistance with tasks of daily living, including a feeding tube,” the presentation says.

Although a facility in South Carolina agreed to take Edwards through a special program, his attorney said he believes the best option is for him to go home to be cared for by his family.

“According to the defendant’s family, the family has been trained to care for him at home as a result of his medical conditions that came to light last summer,” Phillips wrote in the filing.

The response from the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida was unequivocal.

“The government’s position is that release to the defendant’s family is inappropriate,” prosecutors wrote.