SAN DIEGO—Darris Cotton of Vista was sentenced today in federal court to 57 months in jail for submitting false claims for unemployment benefits to the California Department of Employment Development (EDD).
As of July and August 2020, Cotton submitted at least sixteen fraudulent unemployment claims using other people’s names, dates of birth, and social security numbers.
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 to help the American people during crises. public health and economic consequences 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.
In this case, Cotton used a relative’s address to submit the fraudulent claims. Once Cotton received the debit cards in the mail from EDD, he used the debit cards to purchase postal orders and to purchase luxury items such as Gucci backpacks. Cotton admitted that his criminal conduct caused a loss of $312,640 and that he submitted other fraudulent claims for benefits in other states such as Arizona, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Law enforcement seized $112,539 in cash and money orders from Cotton during the investigation and he agreed to forfeit that money as proceeds of his fraud.
“This defendant operated an unemployment insurance program that was meant to be a safety net for workers who suffered financial hardship during a global pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said. “Crimes like this took money from those who really needed it.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and investigative agencies for their excellent work on this case.
“This sentencing sends a strong message that CARES Act fraud will be punished to the fullest extent possible by federal law enforcement,” said Special Agent in Charge Jason Reynolds, San Diego Field Office, US Secret Service. “This was the culmination of the hard work of many law enforcement agencies in the San Diego area working together, and we are committed to continuing our efforts and pursuing justice, putting an end to more fraudsters and of criminal networks.
“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to investigating all criminal organizations and individuals who commit financial fraud and seek to exploit and profit from government programs created to benefit the American people,” said the Special Agent in Charge of HSI San Diego, Chad Plantz. “This conviction confirms HSI’s and the government’s commitment to bringing these people to justice.”
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.
United States Secret Service Homeland Security Investigations
Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG) San Diego Police Department
Carlsbad Police Department