Broward County

Prominent businesswoman pleads not guilty to federal charges

Pamella Watson, a Broward County certified public accountant, who is facing several federal charges including wire fraud and money laundering.
Pamella Watson, a Broward County certified public accountant, who is facing several federal charges including wire fraud and money laundering. Broward County Sheriff’s Office

A prominent South Florida Jamaican businesswoman charged with several federal crimes, including submitting fictitious tax returns to divert the inflated portion to herself, was denied bond Wednesday after pleading not guilty in court.

During the hearing, Pamella Watson, 60, was ordered detained after the judge determined she was a flight risk. She faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Watson is a certified public accountant who once hosted a fundraiser on behalf of Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and another at her lavish Davie home on behalf of former Prime Minister Andrew Holness. A symbol of Jamaican middle class success in the diaspora, Watson was actively involved in numerous South Florida organizations and served on several boards, including the Jamaican Women of South Florida.

“We are shocked, really at a loss for words,” said Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness. “What we are hearing out of this Pam Watson is not the one most of us know. The Pam Watson we know, whom we dealt with, was one who was engaged in the community, was supportive of many endeavors and worked for the betterment of the community.”

Holness, who is Jamaican American, said while Watson had a nice home, he didn’t know her to live an extravagant lifestyle.

Days after her May 20 arrest, the organization announced that she had been suspended as its treasurer. Watson was elected treasurer in February, but had not yet assumed the post nor was she a signatory on any accounts, the organization said in a statement.

Watson’s arrest has sent shock waves through South Florida’s tight-knit Jamaican community, where her parties were must-attend events, and in her native Jamaica, where U.S. investigators said she transferred more than $1.1 million into bank accounts.

Watson faces numerous charges, including money laundering, mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and defrauding the U.S. government and her clients. The tax refund scheme, according to an investigator, was ran through her tax preparation firm, Watson & Associates Business Services, Inc.

Jo Ann Wright, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, said in the complaint that Watson would prepare two tax returns on behalf of her clients without their knowledge and even open joint bank accounts without their authorization. The client would receive a copy of the correct return, but another with inflated returns would be submitted to the agency.

The investigation of Watson began in 2014 after one of her clients, known as “D.B.,” logged into his Bank of America credit card account and noticed a new account linked to his credit card. The account had been opened under the client and Watson’s name. The client soon contacted the IRS and obtained his 2012 tax return transcript.

“D.B. discovered that his tax refund, as recorded by the IRS, was greater than what he expected. The total refund amount claimed on the return sent to the IRS was $10,877 and was being split between two bank accounts,” Wright said in court files. “The portion of the tax refund he expected to receive ($3,712) was directed into his Chase bank Account … while the remaining portion [$7,165] was directed into a Bank of America account without his knowledge or consent.”

A review of D.B.’s tax returns for the years 2009 through 2011 showed that with each, there was a request that a portion of the refund be split into a Bank of America account.

“D.B. does not have a Bank of America bank account and never authorized the refunds to be split between accounts,” Wright said.

A bank employee told investigators that this wasn’t the first joint bank account Watson had opened in this manner.

Wright said a review of Watson’s bank accounts showed that between January 2011 and September 2014, more than $3.4 million in tax refunds were deposited into her accounts. The refunds were related to 183 clients.