If you or someone you love have been charged with, or may soon be charged with, California welfare fraud, you could be facing serious penalties that can have long-term impacts on your life. Only by availing yourself of a local defense attorney well versed in this practice area can you expect to maximize your chances of a favorable outcome to your case.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we realize how easy it is to be falsely accused of committing welfare fraud. In 2014 alone, there were 9,500 welfare fraud investigations in California and 824 cases that were pursued in court. This situation makes it all too easy for guilt to be assumed instead of proven, but we step in to defend your rights and to do everything possible to defeat the charges brought against you.
What Is Welfare Fraud?
"Welfare" is a broad-ranging term that, in this context, encompasses all manner of state-funded programs designed to give assistance to the poor, unemployed, and others struggling among us. "Welfare fraud" refers to any kind of deceptive activity done for the purpose of wrongfully obtaining any kind of welfare program benefit.
There are two basic kinds of welfare fraud in California:
- Recipient fraud: This is when false/incomplete information is submitted by an applicant in order to obtain welfare assistance or to increase the benefits received. This is by far the most common kind of welfare fraud.
- Internal fraud: This occurs when workers at government welfare agencies fraudulently disburse benefits to those they know to be ineligible to legally receive them.
Here are some examples of the most common specific types of welfare fraud:
- Knowingly providing false information to receive a welfare benefit. The information might be present income, total assets, employment status, marital status, or a host of other things. This can count as perjury as well as welfare fraud.
- Purposefully failing to give relevant updates to the appropriate welfare agency in order to illegitimately continue to receive benefits.
- Claiming that a child or other dependent is living with you, when in fact, this is not the case.
- Filing for welfare assistance under multiple names or under someone else's name. This could also constitute identity theft.
- Filing in multiple states for the same benefits when this is not legal.
- Not disclosing relevant criminal history documents.
- Selling, buying, altering, or counterfeiting food stamps.
There are numerous specific offenses covered under California Welfare and Institutions Code 10980, some of which are always misdemeanors, some of which are always felonies, and some which can be either.
Here are some of the possible punishments you could face for various types of welfare fraud in California:
- For obtaining benefits by means of false/misleading statements: Up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $500.
- Filing a fraudulent application for welfare benefits can be a felony or a misdemeanor. As a felony, it is punishable by: 16 months to 3 years in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000. As a misdemeanor, the sentence could include: up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Receiving/keeping/using benefits obtained by fraud can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If less than $950 was taken, it is a misdemeanor; if over $950, it is a felony.
- Selling or buying food stamps is a wobbler offense. If $950 or less was bought/sold, it is a misdemeanor, and if over $950 was involved, it is a felony.
- Counterfeiting food stamps is always a felony, and is punished as are other welfare fraud felonies mentioned above.
- Fraud involving electronically transferred benefits brings additional penalties — one to four extra years in jail, depending on the dollar amount of the fraud transaction.
Additionally, if convicted of welfare fraud, you could be barred from receiving any future welfare benefits, lose your professional license, and be deported if you are a legal alien.
California prosecuting agencies, D.A.'s offices, and welfare fraud task forces are always on the lookout for signs of welfare fraud. Often, they get tips from telephone hotlines or websites dedicated to receiving welfare fraud reports. State welfare agencies may also give them leads.
The investigation will begin by contacting the suspect and asking questions about their welfare benefits and the information they gave to the welfare agency. Sometimes, family members, friends, and other acquaintances will also be contacted, and a surprise home visit and/or interview could take place.
The investigator will then hand over any evidence he/she has amassed to the D.A., who will review it to determine if it makes sense to pursue the case.
Available Defense Strategies
The prosecutor will try to prove that you provided false/misleading information or otherwise misled a welfare agency in order to illegitimately obtain benefits.
However, there are many ways to defend against these charges. Here are some of the main defense strategies we utilize at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney:
- Lack of fraudulent intent. If you genuinely believed you were submitting accurate information, made a simple mistake, forgot to update your status, or didn't realize certain forms of income needed to be reported, there was no intent to defraud and not fraud took place.
- Insufficient evidence. Sometimes there is a lot of circumstantial evidence but no real proof "beyond reasonable doubt." If so, we can prevent a conviction.
- Mistaken identity. It may be that fraud took place but that you didn't do it. False accusations and mistaken conclusion of investigators are not at all uncommon.
Often, it is possible to plea bargain cases that cannot be won outright, so that you can avoid a criminal record by repaying the funds allegedly taken by fraud.
Contact Us Today
Here at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney we stand ready to defend you from any and all charges of welfare fraud. We have extensive experience in this area of law and know how to build a solid defense for each specific type of case.
For a free legal consultation concerning the details of your case, call us 24/7 at 424-333-0943.