License to Steal

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The exam for U.S. Certified Public Accountants is designed to ”protect the public interest by helping to ensure that only qualified individuals become licensed.” According to the Miami Herald, a South Florida accountant took advantage of her position as a CPA to steal millions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury. (Turning her CPA into a license to steal.)

The article states that for more than three years, the tax preparer stole funds from taxpayers by altering her clients’ returns without their authorization, so she could claim larger refunds and pocket the difference. Of the more than $3.6 million that she claimed on the tax returns of more than 200 clients, this felonious Floridian pocketed more than $3.4 million. (Although recovery of her assets to pay restitution reportedly left her ‘destitute’, it’s still well short of the amount she swiped to fund her lavish lifestyle as a benefactress of local charitable organizations and politicians.)

While South Florida’s Jamaican community benefited from the swindling tax professional’s success, they were also the victims of her excessive and elaborate scheme involving splitting deposits into multiple bank accounts to hide her fraud. Records showed that she even used payments to the IRS from some of her clients to pay her own income tax bills. (An equal opportunity thief, she took from everyone and gave to her rich self.)

Upon her arrest, the defendant pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud. (She admitted making a ”bad decision on a practical and moral level”—no kidding.) Despite a recommendation from the prosecutor to reduce her sentence after she surrendered $660,000 from bank accounts in Jamaica, an additional $586,000 from real estate sales, and the proceeds from the sale of her $350,000 home, the judge issued the maximum sentence of six-and-a-half years. After hearing from the victims in letters read to the court, the judge ruled that the former accountant’s abuse of her position of trust and abuse of her professional license did not deserve leniency. (A victory for the victims.)

Thanks to the prosecution team and the judge, fraudster there will be no more parties or charity fundraisers for this fraudster, nor special dinners held for Jamaican politicians in her luxurious home. She is no longer a role model, but a poster child for what happens when you try to scam the government.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article titled, ”Accountant who fleeced Jamaican community and IRS for millions sentenced to 6 1/2 years,” written by Jay Weaver and published by the Miami Herald on December 3, 2015.

Pamella Watson was once a symbol of success in South Florida’s Jamaican community: As a Miami CPA, she advised hundreds of clients, owned a beautiful home in Davie, and supported local charities as well as politicians in her native country.

But Watson, dressed in prison garb, struck a starkly different profile in Fort Lauderdale federal court on Thursday. She was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison for pocketing millions of dollars in false income-tax refunds from the U.S. government.

A weeping Watson, jailed since her arrest in May, admitted to U.S. District Judge James Cohn that she ”made a bad decision on a practical and moral level” — then apologized to him, her family and victims.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.