Welfare fraud is a serious offense that involves engaging in fraudulent activities to obtain welfare benefits from the government illegally. By committing welfare fraud, you will be guilty of presenting false records or fabricating information to receive profits that you are not entitled to receive. The offense also bears a ripple effect to the society, as obtaining welfare benefits illegally robs deserving persons of the provisions. Hence, law enforcement officers take welfare fraud cases seriously by dispatching investigation teams and eventually prosecuting suspects. Therefore, if you face arrest for suspected involvement in any form of welfare fraud, it is essential to contact a criminal defense attorney who will help you handle the accusations accordingly.
Moreover, the support and guidance of a defense lawyer are vital when the case moves into trial, as he/she will prepare persuasive defenses. In doing so, you have a better chance of avoiding a jail sentence conviction, mainly if the lawyer's defenses discredit the prosecutor’s case. At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we offer criminal defense services for different criminal accusations in the Long Beach area. Thanks to our wealth of experience in criminal defense, we have the ability to provide excellent services to our clients.
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Understanding What Welfare Fraud Entails
Engaging in fraud involves using false data or pretenses to obtain benefits or profits unlawfully. Hence, each case involving fraudulent operations must also include a duped party that provides benefits or money to the fraudulent party, based on false information.
The government provides welfare services to citizens in need, with welfare offices set up in every state. Thus, many people would like to benefit from the welfare scheme, as it is a source of reliable financial support to many.
There are various welfare benefit schemes available for different groups of people. For example, you may apply for MediCal, a medical cover scheme that provides insurance coverage for low-income citizens.
Additionally, Calfresh benefits are available for citizens who cannot afford to buy food consistently. Through the system, you will receive food stamps that are redeemable in select outlets for meals.
CalWORKS is also a well-known welfare benefits program that helps people with families by providing cash, clothing, and housing for a short period. Thanks to the program, you can focus on finding a reliable income source that you can then rely on for livelihood.
Moreover, you can also benefit from California's in-home services, whereby a social worker visits your place of residence to provide welfare services based on the challenges you face.
For example, if you or a loved one suffers from drug abuse, the welfare worker can conduct professional evaluations and sign you up for affordable rehabilitation treatment.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, in-home service will help you with preparations for relocation away from the abuser. On top of this, the personnel appointed to you can also provide counseling and help you plan out your financial responsibilities, to help you support yourself and your family without the abuser's help.
Forms of Welfare Fraud
Based on the healthy welfare plans available to the needy persons in the community, offenders engage in different fraudulent engagements to unlawfully acquire the benefits.
Usually, you may face arrest for receiving welfare benefits after orchestrating the distribution of the benefits illegally. The two types of welfare fraud have the underlying element of using false information or circumstances to receive government benefits.
1. Internal Welfare Fraud
When you face charges for internal welfare fraud, you will be facing a trial for abusing your position as a government employee working in a benefits office. As a staff member with access to specific information and power to authorize welfare applications, you are answerable for any false applications you approved.
Upon facing a criminal trial charge, the prosecutor will have to prove several crime elements before the judge can issue a verdict on the matter. If the prosecutor proves all elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you will be liable to face the subsequent penalties. The main factors for the prosecutor to prove in internal welfare fraud are:
You Were Working at a Government Office
Firstly, the prosecutor must prove that you had a job position in a government office that deals with welfare application assessment and approval. Proving the element should not be difficult for the prosecutor, as a representative from the department will appear as a witness to issue a testimony that affirms your position.
The witness can provide documentary evidence that shows your position as a government employee. Further, he/she may testify on working with you for the duration you have been in employment.
You Accepted Fraudulent Applications
Secondly, the prosecutor must prove that you accepted and authorized an application for welfare benefits. For example, if you were an eligibility officer who had to sign the documents before an applicant may proceed to the next step in receiving benefits, you will be accountable.
Thus, the prosecutor may present evidence showing your signatures or authorization letters that accepted fraudulent information from the citizen who applied for benefits.
The prosecutor should also show that the applications were fraudulent by pointing out the illegitimate details and comparing them with accurate information.
For example, suppose the documents you authorized stated that the welfare benefits applicant did not have a means of income. In that case, the prosecutor may receive information from the applicant's employer, affirming that he/she is an employee on the payroll.
You Knew the Application was Fraudulent
Lastly, the prosecutor must prove that you knew of the fraudulent intentions that an applicant had. Your knowledge plays a significant role in building the case, as it shows your criminal choice to take part in the illegality as well.
Here, the prosecutor will mostly rely on circumstantial and factual evidence to prove knowledge. For example, if you intentionally hid the fraudulent application forms from other eligibility officers, the prosecutor can assume that you were in on the operation.
Additionally, if a witness testifies about hearing you making a deal with the welfare applicant about splitting the benefits, the evidence will also work against you.
Often, internal welfare fraud also involves people close to you like your family and friends. Hence, if the prosecutor finds it relevant to prove an existing close relationship between you and the person who fraudulently applied for the benefits, he/she will compile proof as well.
2. Recipient Welfare Fraud
The second type of fraud involves receiving or obtaining welfare benefits fraudulently. Under section 10980 of the California Welfare & Institutions Code, you will be guilty of recipient welfare fraud for presenting false information to receive services that you are ineligible for.
Under this type of fraud, the prosecutor must also prove several crime elements that link you to the offense. The features vary based on different circumstances of the crime. Nevertheless, he/she will remain guided by the underlying aspects of the crime. The prosecutor must prove that:
You Filled False Information on Your Welfare Application
Firstly, the prosecutor must show that you included fraudulent details in your welfare benefits application. The falsehood of your claims varies depending on the types of benefits you hope to receive.
Some of the fraudulent claims commonly filed include presenting claims for children who are ineligible to receive benefits.
When your children turn eighteen, they are no longer covered in some available welfare benefit schemes, except in exceptional cases. Thus, including a child over eighteen years in your claims will lead to arrest and prosecution.
Moreover, presenting a single-parent claim while your spouse is still available and lives with you is also fraudulent. In this case, you will be trying to receive benefits provided to single parents who cannot afford to support their households alone, which is the illegality that the prosecutor must show.
The fraud also extends to omissions like failing to report additional income sources even after getting a job. With the withheld information, you continue to receive benefits despite your ability to support yourself and your family.
If you engaged in any fraudulent activities, the prosecutor would have to provide sufficient proof that shows your claims’ illegitimate nature.
You Knew Your Claims were Fraudulent
Moreover, the prosecutor should prove that you were aware of your wrongful actions but proceeded with them. Demonstrating your knowledge requires the prosecutor to present information on your activities to falsify your claims.
For example, suppose you intentionally hid or fabricated essential documents like your children's birth certificates to benefit a child outside the welfare scheme. In that case, the prosecutor can infer on your engagement in fraud.
Additionally, bribing a government employee to accept your applications so that you can obtain the benefits is also a point of inference when the prosecutor is building on his/her case. The matter would. In that case, you will be under further scrutiny if you were the one who initiated the illegal transaction.
You Received or Attempted to Received Welfare Benefits Unlawfully
Lastly, the prosecutor should prove that you received or planned to receive the illegally obtained benefits after making a fraudulent application.
To provide evidence, the investigation officers will assess your account records and track down any third parties who you may have asked to hold the money for you.
Upon finding the relevant details, the prosecutor will then present bank statements and transactional receipts as evidence of receiving welfare benefits.
Alternatively, if you have not yet received the funds, the prosecutor should prove that you attempted to receive them by creating different bank accounts that would not link you to the fraudulent transaction.
Moreover, evidence arises from any witnesses who confess to working with you in readiness to receive welfare benefits unlawfully. If the prosecutor can prove that you involved yourself in attempting to receive benefits, you will also be guilty of the offense. favorable
Penalties for Welfare Fraud
If the prosecutor successfully proves your criminal involvement in welfare fraud, you will face several penalties. The sentences issued depend on the type of fraud you engaged in and the amount of money you obtained illegally.
Usually, welfare fraud is a wobbler crime, meaning that you may face felony or misdemeanor charges.
If found guilty of making fraudulent applications, you may face a misdemeanor sentence that includes spending up to one year in county jail or paying a maximum fine of $1,000.
Alternatively, you may face a felony charge, whereby you may spend sixteen months or up to three years in county jail. Additionally, a felony charge can attract a maximum fine penalty of $5,000.
If you engage in obtaining or retaining illegally acquired benefits, you will face misdemeanor penalties for welfare amounts of up to $950. The penalties under this category include spending up to six months in county jail or paying a maximum fine of $500.
The criteria for facing felony charges involve obtaining benefits of $950 or more. In this case, you may spend two to three years in county jail, or pay a maximum fine of $5000.
Engaging in the sale, fabrication, or use of fraudulently obtained food stamps also attracts wobbler charges. If you collected or used food stamps worth $950 or less, the crime is a misdemeanor. You will spend up to six months in county jail or pay a maximum fine of $500.
As a felony, you must have accumulated food stamps worth over $950. In this case, your sentence includes spending two to three years in jail or paying fines of up to $5000.
Lastly, if you are a government worker involved in internal welfare fraud, you will face felony charges for the crime. Thus, the judge may order a three-year sentence in state prison.
However, suppose you helped in the embezzlement of welfare funds above $65,000. In that case, you will face a sentence enhancement, with one to four years on top of the initial sentence depending on the amount of money acquired illegally.
Defenses for the Crime of Welfare Fraud
With a criminal defense lawyer present during your trial, you will have a better chance of presenting persuasive defenses. If your attorney makes explicit and legitimate arguments, the judge may decide to reduce your sentence or acquit you of the charges altogether. Common justifications for the offense include:
- Facing false accusations
- Genuinely forgetting to update your status of livelihood
- Lack of knowledge that requires you to declare any gifts, inheritance, or winnings you have as a property
- A genuine belief that the information you included in the applications was legitimate
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Facing criminal charges on welfare fraud may attract adverse consequences, including spending time in jail. Therefore, the charges may impose stressful situations as you prepare for trial and conviction. However, with a resourceful lawyer by your side, you can fight the charges and secure your freedom.
We at the Long Beach Criminal Attorney have worked over the years to provide the best legal services for our clients in Long Beach. Our assistance will go a long way in enabling a smooth trial process for a positive case outcome. Call us today at 562-308-7807.