Louisiana Woman Indicted For Alleged Scheme to Misappropriate Over $1.1 Million in Public Funds Used to Buy Luxury Items and Trips

By Calcasieu Staff
Published April 24, 2023

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Louisiana Woman Indicted For Alleged Scheme to Misappropriate Over $1.1 Million in Public Funds Used to Buy Luxury Items and Trips

New Orleans, Louisiana – A Louisiana woman has been indicted for an alleged scheme to misappropriate over $1.1 million in public funds used to buy luxury items and trips.

United States Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that Melissa J. Watson (“Watson”), a resident of Slidell, Louisiana, was indicted on Friday, April 14, 2023, on one count of theft of public money, one count of wire fraud, and two counts of money laundering.

According to the indictment, Watson planned a scheme to misappropriate over $1.1 million in funds from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program administered by the Small Business Association (SBA) for her and others’ benefit. Watson, who reportedly operated a primary care clinic and a supposed spa prior to the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic, allegedly submitted false and fraudulent loan attestations and other documentation to the HRSA and the SBA on behalf of her business. Watson reportedly misappropriated the PRF and EIDL Program funds for personal gain, including many cash withdrawals and the purchase of two luxury automobiles, hundreds of thousands of dollars in real estate, a boat, a trailer, a timeshare, and various luxury trips.

Watson’s bank accounts and other possessions, including a boat, trailer, and Range Rover Sport, were seized by the government.

Watson faces a potential penalty of 50 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and a mandatory $100 special assessment charge per count if convicted.

According to US Attorney Evans, an indictment is only a charge, and the defendant’s guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

The FBI and the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General are investigating the case. Trial Attorney Kelly Z. Walters of the Gulf Coast Health Care Fraud Strike Force and Assistant United States Attorney Nicholas Moses, Health Care Fraud Coordinator, are prosecuting the case.

The Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force on May 17, 2021, to marshal the Department of Justice’s resources in collaboration with agencies across the government to strengthen efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other things, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. Visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus for additional information on the Department’s response to the pandemic.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 should contact the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or fill out the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.