Slidell Woman Federally Indicted for Theft of Public Money, Wire Fraud, and Money Laundering
NEW ORLEANS - MELISSA J. WATSON (“WATSON”), 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, announced United States Attorney Duane A. Evans.
According to the indictment, WATSON schemed 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 the enrichment of herself and others. WATSON, who allegedly operated a primary care clinic and a purported spa prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, submitted false and fraudulent loan attestations, and other documentation, on behalf of her clinic, to the HRSA and the SBA. WATSON then allegedly used the PRF and EIDL Program funds for personal gain, including making numerous cash withdrawals, and purchasing, among other things, two luxury vehicles, hundreds of thousands of dollars in real estate, a boat, a trailer, a time share, and multiple luxury vacations.
The government seized over $500,000 in bank accounts held by WATSON, and several assets, including a boat, trailer, and Range Rover Sport.
If convicted, WATSON faces a possible maximum sentence of 50 years imprisonment, up to three years of supervised release, up to a $250,000 fine, and a mandatory $100 special assessment fee per count.
U.S. Attorney Evans stated that an indictment is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General and the FBI. The prosecution of the case is being handled by 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.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice 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 https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
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Shane M. Jones
Public Information Officer
United States Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Louisiana
United States Department of Justice