Experienced Welfare Attorneys on Your Side
The federal government is constantly surveilling for welfare fraud. Welfare fraud occurs when you knowingly misrepresent information on an application for public assistance.
For instance, you may be charged with welfare fraud if you intentionally understate your income to receive food stamps or Medicaid. Welfare fraud can also occur if fail to update such information, such as failing to inform the government of an increase in your means.
The Federal Office of Management and Budget
The Federal Office of Management and Budget estimates that improper payments through federal assistance programs account for approximately 10% of their budget. If you are found guilty of welfare fraud, you may be ordered to repay all overpaid amounts. You may even be hit with a much larger fine and possible jail time.
If you are currently under investigation or have been charged with welfare fraud, you must speak with an attorney before furnishing any information to investigators. An attorney specializing in the defense of welfare fraud will be able to pursue your best interests.
Welfare Fraud Laws
It is common practice to prosecute welfare fraud and many other crimes under multiple laws. This exposes you to greater punishment.
The federal government prosecutes welfare fraud under 42 U.S. Code § 608a. This law condemns fraud against welfare and public assistance programs. Under this law, welfare fraud is perpetrated when you intentionally misrepresent your means or information to receive or increase benefits. If you are convicted under this law, you may lose all present and future public assistance benefits.
Charging Mail Fraud In Addition to Welfare Fraud
Additionally, the federal government may charge you with mail fraud in relation to welfare fraud under 18 U.S. Code § 1341. Mail fraud pertains to fraud committed through the transferring of physical documents. The federal government can even charge you with wire fraud under 18 U.S. Code § 1343. Wire fraud relates to the commission of fraud through electronic means, such as a computer. Both laws criminalize the misrepresentation of facts to obtain welfare benefits.
The federal government won’t stop there. It may even charge you for crimes incidental to welfare fraud. Such crimes include perjury, theft, or forgery.
Punishment By the State Governments
In addition to being charged for federal violations, the state in which the fraud has been perpetrated can also bring charges against you. The laws of many states impose harsh consequences for welfare fraud.
- New York. New York Penal Law varies the punishment imposed by the state based on the amount of benefits received as a result of the fraud. Under New York Penal Law, there are 5 varying degrees of welfare fraud ranging from a class A misdemeanor to a class B felony.
- California. Similarly under California law, a fraudulent statement can result in 6 months behind bars. However, the actual filing of a document containing the fraudulent statement can result in a sentence of up to 3 years in prison. In Illinois, you may be additionally liable to pay restitution with 5% interest on all fraudulently obtained benefits. In Texas, a repeat offender of welfare fraud can face up to 20 years in prison. However, one of the harshest punishments for welfare fraud is in Florida. Under Florida law, you can face up to 30 years in prison if you receive over $100,000 fraudulently within the past year. This is just for a single charge of welfare fraud.
How the Government Finds Out
The government detects welfare fraud through multiple channels, even the ones you might least expect. Anyone who believes you are receiving improper benefits may report you to the government. Such individuals can even include a friend, family member, colleague, or a neighbor. Additionally, each welfare program runs its own audits and investigations into improper payments. Such investigations incidentally uncap welfare fraud.
At this point, the program will begin searching for evidence of welfare fraud. During this investigation, you might be questioned by the relevant agency. You have the right to refrain from incriminating yourself. It might be best to have an attorney present at this time.
Investigators might even ask your employer for proof of salary. They may also scrutinize your application for benefits to locate evidence of fraud. The investigators might even search for proof that you received benefits as a result of fraud. If the investigation yields such evidence, you may be charged with welfare fraud under multiple laws as well as secondary crimes, such as theft. However, bear in mind, just because you are being investigated does not mean you will be charged. An experienced attorney may be able to alleviate some of the stress of a seemingly opaque process.
You Still Have Rights
If a charge is brought against you for welfare fraud, it is important to speak to an attorney to understand your rights and best line of defense. If you have been arrested, the authorities may begin questioning you with the hopes that you will make a confession. As in the case of questioning during the investigation, you have the right to remain silent and request the presence of your attorney.
Is There Enough Evidence to Indict?
After you have been charged with welfare fraud, the District Attorney or Attorney General will decide if there is sufficient evidence against you. If so, a grand jury will decide if there is enough evidence to indict you for welfare fraud. Keep in mind that any time after you have been charged, you may enter into a guilty plea. However, it would best interests to confer with an attorney first.
If a grand jury indicts you for welfare fraud, the authorities will continue gathering evidence as the prosecution prepares for trial. The most critical point at which an attorney is necessary is at trial as this is your final chance at acquittal.
The U.S. Supreme Court Has Condemned Welfare Fraud
Federal law has been committed to combating welfare fraud for at least the past 30 years. One of the most notorious cases in the history of welfare fraud concerns a woman named Linda Taylor. Linda Taylor used multiple identities to obtain over $100,000 of benefits. She was charged with multiple counts of welfare fraud.
Welfare fraud has even gotten the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court. In U.S. v. Valdovinos-Mendez, the Supreme Court affirmed that welfare fraud in an amount over $10,000 would be considered an aggravated felony for immigration purposes. Nijhawan v. Holder, 129 S.Ct. 2294, 174 L.Ed.2d 22 (2009).
The past may be an indicator for the present, but it does not have to be. An experienced attorney might be able to help you combat a potential conviction for welfare fraud.
A successful conviction of welfare fraud can take a devastating toll on your wallet. One of the heftiest fines imposed for welfare fraud relate to restitution. If you are ordered to pay restitution, you will have to reimburse the government for the full value of all fraudulently received benefits. You also stand to lose access to all federal subsidized programs even if you qualify. This can wreak havoc on your mental, physical, and financial health.
If you are convicted of welfare fraud, you will likely be liable under multiple state and federal laws. Your punishment may be compounded by additional findings of perjury, theft, or forgery.
The consequences of being convicted for welfare fraud can be quite grave. Having a qualified attorney in your corner may help you obtain leniency or even prove your innocence.
An Ounce of Prevention is a Pound of Cure
To avoid potential charges of welfare fraud, it is strongly advised to never misrepresent information on any application welfare benefits. If you find discrepancies in any such information due to error or changed circumstances, you must report this information to the agency.
The Criminal Lawyer Group Is Your Strongest Advocate
If you are under investigation or accused of welfare fraud, you should contact an attorney immediately. Taking on the behemoth known as the “U.S. Government” is no small endeavor. Our attorneys at the Criminal Lawyer Group have successfully litigated fraud cases against the U.S. Government.