Jamaican accountant jailed in US$3.6M tax refund fraud in Florida

Saturday, December 05, 2015

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FORT LAUDERDALE, USA, (CMC) — A popular Jamaican community activist and accountant in South Florida has been jailed in a US$3.6 million tax refund scheme.

Pamella Watson, 61, had hoped that her charitable work and "extraordinary" efforts to pay restitution for her crimes would persuade the judge to give her a light sentence, but US District Judge James Cohn rejected that argument, sentencing her Thursday to 6.5 years in a US federal prison.

Judge Cohn also ordered Watson to pay more than US$3.68 million in restitution.

"Quite honestly, I don't believe it's deserved in this case; so I'm going to decline the invitation," Cohn said.

Watson of Davie, Florida, had pulled together more than US$1.2 million in restitution to turn over to the Internal Revenue Service in the seven months she was jailed for fraud, which targeted members of the Jamaican community she claimed she was helping.

Her lawyers suggested a prison term of 3.5 years, and the prosecution recommended that she serve a little more than five years in prison, saying she deserved credit for repaying so much of her debt so quickly, the paper said.

Watson admitted she falsified hundreds of tax returns and refund amounts on IRS forms without her clients' knowledge.

The court was told that she diverted money to her own accounts and to her spouse, who told the judge he never suspected her criminality until she was arrested in May.

Cohn said that three victims' letters read aloud in court were among the most powerful he'd ever heard, saying that Watson abused the trust of people who relied on her and used her professional CPA licence to steal from her clients and the Government.

Watson, a prominent activist who was known for hosting lavish fund-raisers and contributing time and money to less fortunate people in South Florida, her native Jamaica and elsewhere, pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge in September.

Cohn said he had privately watched a 13-minute sentencing video submitted by the defence that featured family and friends praising Watson's many charitable endeavours.

A US citizen who migrated from Jamaica in the 1970s, Watson ran her own CPA business in Miami for many years and volunteered for many South Florida charities and organisations.

Watson's lawyers Bruce Rogow and Tara Campion said their client hopes to turn over another US$350,000 to the IRS when her Davie home is sold.

She has also turned over money that was being held in Jamaica and transferred properties that were purchased before the fraud began to try to repay the Government.

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