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Press Release

Vista Man Sentenced to Almost Five Years in Prison for Fraudulently Obtaining More than $300,000 in Benefits Related to Coronavirus Pandemic

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY—September 19, 2022


SAN DIEGO—Darris Cotton of Vista was sentenced in federal court today to 57 months in custody for submitting false applications for unemployment benefits to California’s Employment Development Department (EDD).

As early as July and August of 2020, Cotton submitted at least sixteen fraudulent applications for unemployment 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 the benefits is overseen by EDD. To qualify for benefits, an individual must submit an application with his or her 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 application via U.S. Mail. In March 2020, the United States Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included an economic relief package of more than $2 trillion designed to help the American people during the public health and economic crises that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act expanded the population of persons eligible for benefits, the time period during which persons are eligible for benefits, and/or the amount of benefits.

In this case, Cotton used a relative’s address to submit the fraudulent applications. Once Cotton received the debit cards in the mail from EDD, he used the debit cards to purchase postal money 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 additional fraudulent applications for benefits in other states such as Arizona, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Law enforcement seized $112,539 in currency and money orders from Cotton during the investigation and he agreed to forfeit that money as proceeds of his fraud.

“This defendant exploited an unemployment insurance program that was intended to be a safety net for workers who suffered financial hardship during a global pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Crimes like this took money away from those who truly needed it.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and the investigating 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 by federal law enforcement,” said Special Agent in Charge Jason Reynolds, San Diego Field Office, U.S. Secret Service. “This has been the culmination of hard work by numerous 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 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 that were created to benefit the American people,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “This sentencing affirms HSI’s, and the government’s commitment to bringing these individuals to justice.”

DEFENDANT                                     Case Number 21cr1108-TWR


Darris Cotton



Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud—Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1349 Criminal Forfeiture—Title 18, U.S.C., Section 981

Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison; $250,000 fine or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, whichever is greater; criminal forfeiture of all proceeds derived from the offense.



United States Secret Service Homeland Security Investigations

Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG) San Diego Police Department

Carlsbad Police Department


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

Updated September 19, 2022

Press Release Number: CAS22-0919-Cotton