What is Welfare Fraud?

Welfare Fraud
There are two types of welfare fraud: recipient fraud and internal fraud. The more common form is recipient fraud where people provide false or incomplete information in order to acquire welfare in which they do not qualify. This includes Medi-Cal benefits and food stamps. Internal welfare fraud is when government employees are involved in assigning or distributing welfare benefits when they know that the recipient does not qualify. Most welfare cases are wobblers, meaning they can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances. You are in violation of welfare fraud if you:

  • Purposely misstate information or fail to provide relevant information with the intention of gaining welfare benefits in which you do not qualify
  • Apply for multiple applications or under different names in order to gain more welfare benefits
  • Use, transfer, acquire, purchase, sell, possess, alter, or counterfeit authorizations to receive food stamps or actual food stamps.

Penalties for Welfare Fraud

Welfare fraud can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on:

  • the facts of the case
  • your criminal history

There are different ways a person can commit welfare fraud. Some of the ways are listed below.

  • Statements
  • If you are convicted of making a false or misleading statement in order to acquire benefits, you face a misdemeanor which is punishable by six months in a county jail and/or a maximum fine of $500.

  • Filing Fraudulent Applications
  • Filing a fraudulent application is a wobbler. You are guilty of filing a fraudulent application if you have filed multiple applications for the same person, you have applied for aid under a fake name, or you have applied for benefits under a false identity.
    If it is charged as a penalty it is punishable by:

    • Sixteen months, two or three years in a county jail and/or
    • Up to $5,000 in fines.

    The misdemeanor is punishable by:

    • A maximum of one year in jail and/or
    • up to $1,000 fine.
  • Obtaining or Retaining Benefits
  • This is charged as a misdemeanor if:

    1. You actually obtained or refrained fraudulent benefits, and
    2. Those benefits were equal to $950 or less.

    As a misdemeanor it is punishable by:

    • Up to six months in jail and/or
    • A maximum fine of $500.

    If the aid stolen was more than $950, then you face a felony punishable by:

    • Sixteen months, two or three years in county jail, and/or
    • Up to $5,000 in fines.
  • Food Stamps
  • Engaging in any activity with unauthorized blank authorizations to participate in the food stamp program is a felony. It it punishable by:

    • Sixteen months, two or three years in a county jail, and/or
    • up to $5,000 in fines.

    It is a wobbler offense to use, transfer, sell, purchase, or possess food stamps, electronically transferred benefits, or food stamp authorizations in an unlawful manner.
    If the value of the food stamps or authorizations is less than $950 it is a misdemeanor and punishable by:

    • Up to six months in jail and/or
    • A maximum fine of $500.

    If the values is more than $950 it is a felony and punishable by:

    • Sixteen months, two or three years in a county jail and/or
    • A maximum fine of $5,000.
  • Electronically Transferred Benefits
  • There are additional penalties if:

    1. You are convicted of committing welfare fraud, and
    2. The fraud or attempted fraud involved electronially transferred benefits.

    In addition to the welfare fraud sentence, you face an additional and consecutive:

    • One year of incarceration if the transfer of benefits exceeds $50,000
    • Two years if the transfer exceeds $150,000
    • Three years if the transfer exceeds $1,000,000, or
    • Four years if the transfer exceeds $2,500,000.
Additional Penalties

When convicted of welfare fraud, you face additional penalties:

  • Professional discipline if you hold a state license
  • Deportation or removal if you are a illegal immigrant
  • Disqualification from receiving any future public assistance

Legal Defenses for Welfare Fraud

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can present your case with legal defense. Some of the most common legal defenses for welfare fraud include:

  • You Didn’t Have Fraudulent Intent
  • Prosecutors have to prove that you had fraudulent intent in order for you to be convicted. If they cannot prove that you acted with specific intent to defraud, then the judge must instrust the jury to find you ‘not guilty’.

  • Insufficient Evidence
  • Even if evidence strongly suggests that you were involved in welfare fraud, nothing can be done without actual proof.

  • False Accusations/Mistaken Identity
  • This defense is generally used with internal welfare fraud because there are more opportunities for a different person to have access to your application without your knowledge. If someone has altered your application without your knowledge, you could be falsely accused. It’s important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer to find all the facts.

  • Resititution Agreements
  • Welfare fraud prosecutors are most concerned with getting the monies back to the state. If you are able to pay back all or a substanstial amount of the money you are accused of defrauding, then it is morelikely to recieve a reduced charge or a light sentence. Fresno sets the limit at at $3,000, so if you are able to repay that money, then you can receive a dismissal of all fraud charges.

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