Citrus County Man Pleads Guilty To Receiving Stolen Benefit Payments From The Department Of Veterans Affairs
Fort Myers, Florida – U.S. District Judge Sheri Polster Chappell has sentenced Edrica Leann Watson (40, Lehigh Acres) to 15 months in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for making a false statement to a financial institution. As part of her sentence, the court also entered an order of forfeiture in the amount of $392,563.00, the proceeds of the offense of conviction. Watson was also ordered to pay $434,227.50 in restitution to the two financial institutions that she had defrauded. Watson had pleaded guilty on March 22, 2022.
According to court documents and information presented during her sentencing hearing, Watson was the owner and purported operator of Unity Home Care Services, LLC (UHC), an entity for which she made materially false representations on loan applications under the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) to financial institutions. While UHC was formed by Watson in September 2020, it was not an operating business prior to or at the time of her application in April 2021. Watson initially obtained two loans, each in the amount of $20,832.00, and then submitted an additional loan application in the amount of $392,563.00 on behalf of UHC, for a total of $434,227.50 in PPP loans. UHC’s number of employees, wages, and income were misrepresented on the loan application in order to receive the loan amount requested. Fraudulent tax documents and an income statement were also submitted to the financial institution with the loan application to further support the loan amount of $392,563.00.
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. Run out of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, the Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international actors committing civil or criminal fraud 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 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.
This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jesus M. Casas. The forfeiture was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Nebesky.