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Press Release

Woman Pleads Guilty to Theft and Misappropriation of COVID-19 Funds

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A Louisiana woman pleaded guilty today to theft of public money in connection with a scheme to misappropriate over $780,000 from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF), a COVID-19 pandemic relief program administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

According to court documents, Melissa J. Watson, of Slidell, operated a primary care clinic. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Watson submitted false and fraudulent attestations on behalf of her clinic to obtain PRF funds to which she was not entitled. Watson’s attestations included falsely affirming that such funds would only be used by the clinic to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, and to reimburse health care related expenses or lost revenues attributable to coronavirus. Despite the attestations, Watson used the PRF funds for personal purposes, including making numerous cash withdrawals and purchasing, among other items, hundreds of thousands of dollars in real estate, a luxury vehicle, a boat and trailer, and a time share condominium.

The government seized over $500,000 in bank accounts held by Watson, along with several assets, including a boat and trailer, and a Range Rover Sport vehicle.

Watson is scheduled to be sentenced on July 16 and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana; Assistant Director Michael Nordwall of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division; Special Agent in Charge Lyonel Myrthil of the FBI New Orleans Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Jason E. Meadows of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) made the announcement.

The FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the case.

Trial Attorney Kelly Z. Walters of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Health Care Fraud Coordinator Nicholas D. Moses for the Eastern District of Louisiana are prosecuting the case.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Justice Department in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The task force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, 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. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please visit

Updated April 9, 2024

Health Care Fraud
Press Release Number: 24-418