Vista Criminal Attorney is a top-rated law firm in Vista, San Diego. The firm is well known for producing top-tier criminal defense across many practice areas in Vista and the surrounding areas. Welfare fraud is one of the areas that the attorneys specialize in. There are a number of instances in which someone can be charged with welfare fraud. That said, there are a couple of defense strategies that a good criminal defense attorney can put up in court to ensure a reduction of sentence or even an acquittal in some instances.
What is Welfare Fraud?
According to the California Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 WIC, welfare fraud is defined as the falsification or failure to report crucial information when applying for state benefits, with the aim of receiving benefits that one would otherwise, not be entitled to.
In California, welfare refers to various forms of assistance provided by the government and state to citizens who are underemployed or unemployed. These benefits are available through a variety of programs which include:
- CalWORKs (California Work Opportunities and Responsibilities to Kids)
This is California’s main benefits program. Through CalWORKs, needy families are provided with help for food, housing, necessities, and/or health care for a short while.
This is more commonly known as the food stamp program and issues food stamp benefits. These are usually electronic and issued on a monthly basis.
Through GAIN, recipients of CalWORKs are provided with support to find and retain employment as well as advance to better-paying jobs.
This is California's Medicaid program that provides health insurance to low-income citizens. Although it is a welfare benefit, Medi-Cal fraud prosecution is done separately from other forms of welfare fraud.
- In-home services
Through these services, the state addresses issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health for its citizens.
To qualify for any of these benefits, citizens must apply and provide evidence that shows they are eligible for the benefits. The Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 WIC covers welfare fraud. The state of California defines a violation of the law if you:
- deliberately provide false information or withhold important information so as to obtain, keep or increase welfare benefits that you are not entitled to.
- apply for welfare benefits more than once or use multiple names in order to get more benefits.
- use, acquire, purchase, transfer, sell, alter or counterfeit food stamps or the consent to receive food stamps.
Different Cases of Welfare Fraud
There are two main ways through which welfare fraud is committed. These are internal and recipient fraud.
Recipient Welfare Fraud
Of the two types, this is the more common type of welfare fraud. Recipient fraud is committed by the public and is defined to be, under the 10980 WIC, as the receiving or attempt of receiving welfare benefits which one is not entitled to.
There are a number of ways through which recipient fraud can be committed. However, these are some instances of recipient fraud that occur more often than others. One such instance is the absent parent living in the home. This is a situation where a citizen will claim to be a single parent yet the child’s other parent is still present and lives with them. Failure to report any extra income and other benefits and collecting welfare benefits from other states besides California are also common.
Other common causes of recipient fraud include submitting claims for children who have moved out and applying for welfare benefits for children who are ineligible and/or fictitious children.
Internal Welfare Fraud
Welfare benefits are usually distributed by government agencies. Internal fraud takes place when an employee of such an agency attempts to collect and distribute the benefits unlawfully.
Often, internal frauds are usually a case of a worker trying to get unlawful welfare benefits for family and friends. This usually happens by them falsifying information or leaving out important information that would make the applicants ineligible for the benefits.
Most times, an employee charged with internal welfare fraud may also face other charges such as embezzlement. Internal fraud is a violation of the Penal Code 503 PC which is also known as employee theft. The law states that embezzlement is the theft of funds that have been placed in someone’s trust, for example by their employer. Thus, by allocating welfare benefits to applicants who are undeserving, an employee of a government agency that distributes the benefits violates the Penal Code 503 PC.
Related Charges to Welfare Fraud
Most times, welfare fraud usually involves allegations of theft, perjury, and forgery. This may prompt a prosecutor to file other charges against the defendant. These charges are:
California’s Forgery Law Penal Code 470 PC
The Penal Code 470 PC forgery law highlights the prohibition of the alteration, creation and using of a written document to commit fraud. This means that the application of welfare benefits under someone else’s name and the alteration and counterfeiting of food stamps is a violation of this law.
If accused of welfare fraud, a prosecutor may as well place additional charges of forgery. If found guilty, the accused faces 16 months or two/ three years in county jail and/ or a maximum fine of $10,000.
California’s Conspiracy Law Penal Code 182 PC
Under this law, conspiracy to commit a crime with someone else is prohibited. Penal Code 182 PC defines conspiracy as an agreement to commit a crime, in this case, to obtain fraudulent benefits. If convicted, the accused faces a felony which is punishable by the same penalties for being convicted of welfare fraud.
A prosecutor is likely to charge the accused with conspiracy in cases of internal fraud where the employee was obtaining benefits for their friends and family.
California’s Grand Theft Law Penal Code 487 PC
Penal Code 487 PC prohibits the taking another person or entity's property whose value is above $950. In this case, the property includes money, land, labor and personal property.
In the case of welfare fraud, obtaining welfare benefits valued at or more than $950 could have a prosecutor charge you with grand theft. If convicted, the accused faces 16 months or two/three years in county jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.
California’s Perjury Law Penal Code 118 PC
Violation of the Penal Code 118 PC occurs when one deliberately gives false information while under an oath. A prosecutor could charge you with perjury if you use a false name, false security number or falsify any other information when applying for welfare benefits.
Perjury in the state of California is punishable by two, three, or four years in jail, and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.
The Investigation Process for Welfare Fraud
In the state of California, prosecutors will receive tips of welfare fraud from various sources. These include the public, local agencies that are responsible for the disbursement of welfare benefits, and any other agencies that suspect welfare fraud.
In most California counties, there is a welfare fraud unit that is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting such frauds.
Once the office of the local prosecutors receives a tip of possible welfare fraud, an investigating team is set up. The team of welfare fraud investigators will often begin their investigations by questioning the named recipients. They will want information regarding the kind of benefits they receive and the information the recipients provided when applying for the benefits. Close family and friends, as well as neighbors, may also be questioned to find out more about the allegations.
In certain cases, unannounced home visits may happen. This may be necessary in cases where child abuse, adult abuse, domestic violence, and drug crimes are suspected. In these scenarios, the relevant government agencies such as Child Welfare services, Adult Protective Services, and Family Protection Services may become key players in the investigations.
When the investigation process is done, the investigators will compile all the information and present it to a D.A. The D.A will determine whether or not the evidence is sufficient and may request the investigator to gather more evidence.
If the information provided to the D.A is sufficient enough, he/she may decide to prosecute. The D.A will then file charges under the Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 WIC and may add other related charges discussed above.
He/She may also decide to reject the case in the event of insufficient evidence or may place it in a welfare diversion program.
What Must a Prosecutor Prove for a Conviction of Welfare Fraud?
Once investigations are done, a hearing will begin. If a prosecutor decides to take the case to court, they will try to prove that you are guilty of the welfare fraud charges.
However, there are a couple of things that they must prove so as to get a conviction on the said charges. They must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you committed the fraud.
To do this, they must provide sufficient evidence that shows that you had fraudulent intent and that there was no mistaken identity. They must also prove that the accusations are not false.
Failure to do so will have the judge asking the jury to give a verdict of ‘not guilty'.
Penalties and Punishment for Welfare Fraud
The penalty and punishment for someone convicted of welfare fraud will depend on the exact section of the Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 WIC that they violate. The violations can be classified as misdemeanors, felonies or wobblers which are treated as either of the former two depending on your criminal history and the case facts presented to the D.A.
If found guilty of making a false statement so as to obtain welfare benefits, then the violation is a misdemeanor. In this case, you face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Filing dishonest applications
Filing fraudulent applications will be treated as a wobbler. If convicted as a felony, you will face up to sixteen months or two/three years in county jail and/or a maximum fine of $5,000.
If convicted as a misdemeanor, you will face jail time of a maximum of 1 year and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.
Obtaining and retaining benefits
Obtaining and retaining benefits will either be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on whether or not you actually obtained the benefits and if the value was more or less than $950.
If you are convicted and the offense treated as a misdemeanor, then you face up to 6 months in jail and/or a maximum fine of $500
If the value of the benefits obtained was more than $950, then you face a felony which is punishable by 16 months in county jail and/or fines of up to $5,000.
Welfare fraud regarding food stamps such as the unauthorized authorization to participate in the food stamp program is considered a felony and is punishable by 16 months or two/three years in county jail and/or fines of up to $5,000.
Using, transferring, selling, purchasing or possessing food stamps or electronically transferred benefits is considered a wobbler offense. If the benefits are less than $950, it is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum of 6 months in jail and/or a maximum fine of $500.
In case the benefits are valued at more than $950, the offense is a felony. It is punishable by 16 months or two/three years in county jail and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Electronically Transferred Benefits
If convicted of welfare fraud, then you face certain additional charges if the fraud committed involved electronically transferred benefits.
Besides the sentence for the fraud committed, you also face additional sentences depending on the value of the electronically transferred benefits.
For benefits that exceed $50,000, you face a year of imprisonment, 2 years for benefits exceeding $150,000, 3 years for those exceeding $1,000,000, and 4 years for benefits exceeding $2,500,000.
Besides the above-mentioned penalties, there are additional penalties that you will face should you be convicted of welfare fraud. For example, if you hold a state license, then you may face professional discipline. You may also be disqualified from receiving any other benefits in the future and/or be deported if you are a legal immigrant.
Welfare Fraud Diversion Programs
In some instances, it is possible for you to pay off the fraudulent money without having to face any criminal charges. This, however, depends on the county welfare fraud diversion programs. The programs typically vary in each county.
Many counties in the state of California have welfare fraud diversion programs. A prosecutor may dismiss your case to the program based on your criminal history and if you did not take too much money from the county. Through this program, individuals are allowed to pay back the money and in turn, they get a dismissal of the charges. They must, however, plead guilty to the charges.
Common Defense Strategies for Welfare Fraud Charges
When charged with welfare fraud, there are a couple of strategies that a lawyer can use to your defense. Here are some of the most common ones:
- There was no fraudulent intent.
The prosecution cannot get a conviction unless they prove that you had the intention of committing fraud. Based on this, your lawyer can argue that you believed that you had submitted a legitimate claim, you didn’t realize that you had to report something or you forgot to update the status once an important aspect changed.
- Insufficient evidence
A conviction for welfare fraud cannot be made based on incriminating evidence. The prosecution must, therefore, provide sufficient evidence that shows you actually committed the fraud. This means that even though there is suspicion of you committing fraud, your criminal defense lawyer can have you acquitted on the basis of insufficient evidence.
- Restitution agreements
When it comes to welfare fraud charges, prosecutors are primarily concerned with restoring the county’s money. If you are able to pay back the money, then you can have the prosecution drop some of the charges or even opt for a lighter sentence.
- False accusations and mistaken identity
There are a couple of situations that would warrant your criminal defense lawyer to use false accusation or mistaken identity as a defense strategy.
Take for example you live with your boyfriend. While applying for welfare benefits you provide all the correct information. Your boyfriend offers to submit the application for you and, without your knowledge, alters the information on the children listed. In this case, your defense lawyer can have the charges against you dropped and your boyfriend charged instead.
Find a Vista Criminal Attorney for Welfare Fraud Near Me
Having welfare fraud charges against you does not necessarily mean that you will go to jail. However, it is important to have a good criminal defense lawyer who is conversant with the California law. At Vista Criminal Attorney, we are confident in our defensive skills. Our attorneys will confidently take on your case and put up a great defense for you. Call us today at 760-691-1551 and have some of the best welfare fraud attorneys on your side today!