LOS ANGELES – A Riverside County woman was sentenced today to 54 months in federal prison for her role as an organizer and leader of an extensive conspiracy that defrauded California’s unemployment insurance benefits program out of more than $1.1 million.
Catrina Gipson, 47, of Moreno Valley, was sentenced by United States District Judge John A. Kronstadt, who also ordered her to pay $1,106,282 in restitution.
Gipson pleaded guilty in June 2022 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Beginning as early as February 2013 and continuing to at least July 2016, Gipson’s co-conspirators used fake businesses registered with the California Employment Development Department (EDD), the administrator of the federal unemployment insurance benefits program for the state, to defraud EDD. The names of the fictitious companies included Super Cleaning Service and Angel Clothing Store, according to court documents.
Sometimes, Gipson’s co-conspirators filed claims for unemployment insurance in their own names, claiming unemployment from fake businesses created by co-conspirators, the indictment alleges. Other times, co-conspirators filed unemployment insurance claims using the names of other people, including prison inmates.
After EDD funded debit cards pursuant to false unemployment claims, Gipson and her co-conspirators withdrew funds from the cards, some of which were in the name of other claimants. In total, the conspirators fraudulently obtained over $1.1 million in unemployment insurance benefits.
For example, in May 2016, Gipson withdrew $880 from a Bank of America branch in Moreno Valley, using a debit that EDD funded pursuant to a false unemployment claim made in the name of someone who purportedly had been laid off earlier that year, but in reality, had been a prison inmate since 2000. Gipson is the lead defendant in this case. Vernisha Jolivet, 30, of Indianapolis, pleaded guilty in February 2022 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to six months in federal prison.
Six other defendants are scheduled to go on trial in this matter on May 2.