MIAMI-A Tamarac man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his involvement in an immigration benefit fraud scheme following a joint U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Social Security Administration (SSA), and State of Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation investigation.
Audie Watson, 76, was sentenced Dec. 8 to 168 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch. Watson was also ordered to forfeit assets and pay $11,250 in restitution.
Watson was charged on Aug. 29, 2008 in a seven-count indictment, along with his employees, Nancy Vertus, Anibal Reyes and Laura Reyes, with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and to encourage illegal aliens to remain in the United States. He is additionally charged with mail fraud and money laundering.
Watson's co-defendants pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and were sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. He was convicted of all seven counts on Sept. 22 after a four-day trial.
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. He 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 case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer Keene and Laurence Bardfeld.