On April 10, the Department of Justice announced that a Louisiana woman, Melissa J. Watson of Slidell, pleaded guilty to theft of public money in connection with an alleged scheme to misappropriate over $780,000 from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF), a COVID-19 relief program administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Court documents suggest that Watson, who operated a primary care clinic, submitted false and fraudulent attestations to obtain PRF funds that the government claims she was not entitled to. The referenced attestations included affirming that the funds would be used solely for COVID-19-related purposes, such as preventing, preparing for, and responding to the pandemic, or reimbursing healthcare-related expenses and lost revenues. However, according to the government, Watson diverted the funds for personal use, including making cash withdrawals and purchasing luxury items such as real estate, a vehicle, and a time-share condominium.

As a result of the investigation, 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 for sentencing on July 16 and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. 

In response to apparent pandemic-related fraud, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force on May 17, 2021. The task force collaborates with government agencies to investigate and prosecute domestic and international persons it deems responsible for fraudulent activities related to COVID-19 relief programs.

The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent clients of all types and sizes in connection to healthcare law and white-collar criminal investigations and litigation. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.