MIAMI- Audie Watson, 76, of Tamarac, was found guilty today for fraud, immigration, and money laundering crimes.
The announcement was made by Jeffrey H. Sloman, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Michael J. Folmar, acting special agent in charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Investigations in Miami, Michael Rozos, field office director for the ICE Office of Detention and Removal in Miami, Guy P. Fallen, special agent in charge, Social Security Administration (SSA), Office of Inspector General, and John R. Powell, director, State of Florida, Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which investigated the case.
The evidence at trial established that Watson, the owner and president of Universal Service Dedicated to God, Inc., a Florida non-profit corporation, conspired with his employees to sell documents purporting to confer membership in a Native American tribe called the Pembina Nation Little Shell. Watson sold these memberships to illegal aliens at a cost of $1,500 per individual and $2,000 per couple. As shown at trial, Watson sold the supposed memberships in order for his customers to make claims of Native American lineage to immigration authorities and thereby avoid removal from the United States.
The jury returned its guilty verdict on all ten counts of mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341; encouraging aliens to reside in the United States, in violation of Title 8, United States Code, Section 1324; and conspiracy to commit these offenses, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. The jury also found the defendant guilty of money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1957.
The mail fraud counts each carry a maximum imprisonment term of twenty years. The counts for money laundering and encouraging illegal aliens to reside in the United States each carry a maximum imprisonment term of ten years. The conspiracy count carries a maximum imprisonment term of five years. As to every count, the defendant potentially faces a maximum fine of $250,000.
Watson is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 4, 2009, before United States District Judge William J. Zloch.
Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the FBI, ICE, the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, and Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation (Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco). The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jennifer Keene and Laurence Bardfeld.