Vista Man pleads guilty to fraudulently obtaining more than $300,000 in unemployment benefits | USAO-SDCA

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Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael A. Deshong and Alicia Williams (619) 546-9290

SUMMARY OF PRESS RELEASE—March 4, 2022

SAN DIEGO — Vista’s Darris Cotton pleaded guilty today in federal court to a fraud charge, admitting that he submitted false claims for unemployment benefits to the California Department of Employment Development.

As admitted in the plea agreement reached today before U.S. District Judge Todd W. Robinson, Cotton used the names, dates of birth and social security numbers of third parties to submit false claims for benefits. Cotton listed an address in Vista, California on at least sixteen different apps. After the California Employment Development Department (EDD) sent debit cards containing the benefits to Cotton’s address, he took the cards to various locations to purchase money orders in an effort to extract the funds. Cotton admitted to fraudulently obtaining at least $312,000 in benefits. As part of his plea deal, Cotton agreed to forfeit $97,400 in money orders and $15,139 in currency seized from him.

The United States Department of Labor funds unemployment benefits, but the administration of benefits is overseen by the EDD. To be eligible for benefits, a person must submit an application with their name, date of birth, social security number, and other personal information. If the information is approved, EDD sends a debit card to the address provided in the request via US Mail. In March 2020, the United States Congress passed the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, which included a more than $2 trillion economic relief package designed to help the American people during crises. public health and economics that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act expanded the population of people eligible for benefits, the period during which people are eligible for benefits, and/or the amount of benefits.

As noted in his plea agreement, Cotton began submitting fraudulent benefit claims just months after Congress passed the CARES Act and expanded those benefits. Cotton also admitted to submitting fraudulent benefit claims to EDD in addition to the sixteen specified in the plea agreement, and submitted fraudulent benefit claims in other states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland and Arizona. Cotton used the benefits he obtained fraudulently to purchase luxury items such as Gucci-branded backpacks.

Agents from the United States Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations and Department of Labor Inspector General’s Office and San Diego Police Department detectives investigated dozens of fraudulent claims that were submitted in July and August 2020. During the investigation, law enforcement seized approximately $97,000 in US money orders and MoneyGram and $15,000 in US currency from Cotton.

“While so many deserving people were suffering pandemic-related economic hardship, this defendant used a global pandemic to profit,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said. “These benefits are for those who really need them, not the greedy who exploit the system.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and investigative agencies for their excellent work on this case.

“HSI Special Agents and our law enforcement partners have worked tirelessly to bring to justice the criminal networks that are exploiting the global pandemic for personal financial gain,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. San Diego. “This guilty plea ensures that this individual can no longer illegally benefit from resources dedicated to those in need of financial assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The Secret Service remains committed to prosecuting those who seek to wrongfully profit from CARES Act fraud,” said San Diego Acting Special Agent in Charge Timothy Scott. “The hard work of the skilled officers and investigators who worked on this case, and many others like her, is making a difference not just here in San Diego, but across the country.”

Cotton is scheduled to be sentenced on May 27.

RESPONDENT Case number 21cr1108-TWR

Darris Cotton Age: 30 Vista, CA

FEES SUMMARY

Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud – Title 18, USC, Section 1349

Criminal Forfeiture – Title 18, USC, Section 981

Maximum penalty: twenty years in prison; a fine of $250,000 or double the gross gain or loss resulting from the violation, whichever is greater; criminal confiscation of all proceeds from the offence.

AGENCY

United States Secret Service

Homeland Security Investigations

Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General (OIG)

San Diego Police Department

Carlsbad Police Department

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