A Vista man pleaded guilty to taking more than $300,000 in unemployment benefits intended for those who'd lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Darris Cotton submitted at least 16 false applications for benefits by using other people's names, dates of birth and social security numbers, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Those applications led the California Employment Development Department to mail debit cards to his North County address, which Cotton used to buy money orders in order to obtain the funds, prosecutors say. The U.S. Attorney's Office says Cotton also submitted fraudulent applications in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Arizona and used the stolen funds he did receive to buy "luxury items such as Gucci-brand backpacks."
As part of the plea agreement, Cotton agreed to forfeit $97,400 in money orders and more than $15,000 in currency seized from him.
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"While so many deserving people were suffering from pandemic-related economic challenges, this defendant used a global pandemic to cash in," said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. "These benefits are intended for those who truly need it, not for greedy people who exploit the system."