If you are charged with Welfare fraud, it means you unlawfully offered wrong information in exchange for government benefits that you would not have received otherwise. An example of a government benefit will include food stamps. If you work as a government official or employee, you can get prosecuted for this offense. This is likely when you knowingly allocate or give these benefits to individuals who do not qualify.

California welfare fraud is a wobbler. The prosecutor examines your criminal history on the crime and the circumstances of the incident to charge you. If you get convicted, the penalties are severe, including jail time and fines. Fortunately, you can defend yourself against these allegations with an attorney from Orange County Criminal Lawyer. Our lawyers have successfully defended many others accused of this offense, and we are ready to defend you.

Definition of Welfare Fraud Based on the Law

Welfare fraud in California is defined according to the Welfare and Institutions Code 10980. Based on this statute, you commit the offense if you give information knowing it is wrong to access public programs. If you omit critical information deliberately to access these programs as well, you are guilty of welfare fraud. The government has designed the programs to help individuals who need assistance genuinely, and the said individuals must be eligible for them. The instances where you can be accused of welfare fraud are:

  • When you offer wrong details deliberately or fail to share vital information to qualify for welfare benefits, in providing these benefits to deserving people, the government evaluates them by the information they present. If you are found to have falsified data to get, have, or increase the benefits you receive from these programs, you are guilty of welfare fraud.

  • If you used different names in multiple applications to obtain benefits severally, you have committed welfare fraud.

  • When you are found to have transferred, acquired, sold, bought, owned, altered, or counterfeited necessary authorizations to have food stamps or you have food stamps and do this, you will get charged with this offense.

  • If you work for the welfare program and knowingly and unlawfully distribute welfare benefits to individuals who don't deserve them, you get charged with welfare fraud.

If you are accused of welfare fraud because you did any of the above, the prosecution must determine their case beyond any doubt for a conviction.

California's Welfare Programs

Various welfare programs have been designed in California to help deserving individuals. Some of the welfare programs are:

  • CalWORKs – This is the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids. The program was designed to assist families needing cash assistance for a short time. In this case, the cash is used for food, housing, medical bills, utility bills, and clothing. If you require this assistance in the short-term, you must go to their offices and provide the necessary information. The information is then evaluated, and if found to be valid and deserving, you will receive this help from the program.

  • CalFresh – Almost everyone has heard about food stamps. When you have challenges affording food, you can apply to this program for assistance. If you qualify, you will be given monthly aid to you electronically to help you buy food.

  • In-home services – Just like the others, you must be eligible to benefit from this program. If you fall under any of the below groups, you can apply for assistance under this program. These are:

    • Domestic violence victims need health care, learning parental skills, counseling, public health information, and help planning their finances.

    • If you are an addict or a victim of substance abuse and require counseling and treatment, you otherwise cannot afford it.

    • If you have mental health issues that need treatment and advice. Or if you have depression or anxiety issues, you can get help through this program.

  • Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) – Some people find it challenging to find gainful employment, forcing them to turn to welfare programs such as CalWORKS for temporary assistance. GAIN works with individuals under the CalWORKS program to place them with employers, keep their jobs, and find them even better opportunities.

  • General Relief or Assistance – If you are an adult and are living below the poverty line, you can get assistance through this program. However, to qualify for this assistance, you must not be getting help from any other government program. If you lie to benefit from this program while you are gaining from others, you are guilty of welfare fraud.

  • Medi-Cal – Not everyone can afford to have decent insurance health coverage. With this being a fact, the government has designed this program to assist any individual in need of medical aid. Under this program, fraud is also committed, but it is charged according to a different statute.

If you falsify information or omit necessary information that qualifies you for any of the programs, you are guilty of welfare fraud. Equally, if you work in any welfare program and assist a person who does not qualify to get these benefits, you are also guilty.

Welfare Fraud Investigations

Before you are charged with welfare fraud, allegations must be made, and an investigation carried out. Welfare fraud is a serious offense in California, resulting in specialized departments charged to investigate these cases only. The prosecutors from these departments receive referrals for the various cases from:

  • Individuals that call their offices to report suspected fraud cases or report it through their website

  • Agencies dedicated to social services and distribution of benefits from welfare programs

  • Tips notified via the hotlines shared with the public

  • Interested government agencies suspecting welfare fraud

Once allegations are made, investigators find the accused persons and interview them. During the investigations, the beneficiaries are questioned on the received benefits, and the information shared qualifying them for them. If you are accused of unlawful benefiting from welfare programs, you will be subjected to this type of interview. Similarly, your friends, family, neighbors will also get interviewed to establish if the information you shared was factual.

Unfortunately for you, as the investigations are going on, other offenses may get discovered. Some of the commonly observed violations involve child neglect, abuse to the elderly, drug-related crimes, and domestic violence. As a result, other government agencies get involved in investigations such as child welfare services, or agencies tasked with protecting the elderly.

After gathering and compiling all the required information, the assistant district attorney is presented with a comprehensive report to analyze. Once a review of the findings is completed, the prosecution determines if the evidence presented is sufficient to initiate criminal proceedings. If the evidence is substantial, a petition to charge you for welfare fraud under WIC 10980 is filed.

However, sometimes the information gathered is not adequate to prosecute you. In such a case, the investigators may be asked to carry out further investigations, or the claim is dropped altogether.

Welfare Fraud Types

Cases of welfare fraud are either internal involving an employee of the program or external, involving the plan's beneficiary.

Recipient Fraud

This is the type of welfare fraud by the recipient of the benefits, according to WIC 10980. If you try to or receive benefits from a welfare program undeservingly, you are guilty of this fraud. This offense is achieved in different ways, with some methods being more common than others. The typical methods include:

  • If you receive these benefits after lying, you raise your children solely, yet your spouse or other parent stays with you.

  • If you are a beneficiary of different types of assistance and fail to report this, or you have a way of receiving added income.

  • If you lie that you live with a child to receive welfare benefits or claim to be having more children in your household, it is not the case.

  • If you receive welfare benefits from another state and still claim for welfare in California.

When you are charged with recipient fraud, you want to get more than you are supposed to, using deception when you want to get more than you are supposed to.

Internal Welfare Fraud

Earlier, we stated that government or welfare program employees also face welfare fraud charges. You can get charged with this offense if you work for the government and are found to be disbursing the benefits fraudulently. This is achievable if you are accused of attempting to receive or directing the benefits to an undeserving entity.

As an employee, you can be accused of falsifying information and applying for the benefits through ineligible friends and family, and sharing the proceeds. You can also be charged with creating non-existent minors and distorting income claims disqualifying friends or family from benefiting from the program. This can also be done to aid their loved ones to receive more benefits as well.

If you are working for a welfare program and are accused of internal welfare fraud, you will also be prosecuted for embezzlement. If, as a government employee, you embezzle from the program a significant amount, you will be prosecuted under felony offenses. Your penalties, in this case, may include imprisonment at the state prison.

Defending yourself against Welfare Fraud Charges

When you are accused of welfare fraud, the prosecution must determine your guilt in the court. The state begins by investigating the allegations before filing criminal charges against you. When charged with a recipient or internal fraud, you have a constitutional right to defend yourself against the charges. With a skilled criminal attorney's help, you can challenge the evidence presented against you and win your case or get a less harsh penalty.

Your attorney begins by interviewing you to get your side of the story and then study the prosecutor's case against you. The attorney will also investigate the allegations independently and strategize on the best defenses in your case. Some commonly used arguments against these allegations are:

Your Actions were not Fraudulent in Intent

When welfare fraud charges are brought against you, a crucial element to be proven is that you had fraudulent intentions. If whatever you did was not intentional or aimed at stealing from the program, you cannot be found guilty. Your attorney will challenge the fraudulent intent claim by arguing:

  • The applications you submitted were legitimate based on your knowledge. This strategy applies to both internal and recipient fraud claims. If you left out some information or provided incorrect ones, doing that may not have been intentional.

  • If you are accused of not reporting extra earnings, it may not have been intentional. Your attorney can argue that your additional earnings were from lottery winnings, gifts, or inheritance that you never knew must be reported.

  • When a child becomes ineligible to earn benefits, you are expected to update your status with the welfare office. However, if you genuinely forgot to do this, your attorney can present this argument on your behalf.

For these arguments to work in your favor, your attorney must be persuasive and back them with proof. A skilled attorney knows how to convince the jury of your innocence using facts. If you are found not to have had fraudulent intentions, the charges may get dropped or receive a more lenient sentence.

Insufficient Evidence

When a case is presented in court, the prosecutor must prove your guilt by showing sufficient evidence against you. Sometimes prosecutors base a claim on circumstantial evidence that can get you convicted wrongly without challenging it. For instance, if your superior noticed some of the below things, he may report you of internal fraud. These are:

  • Having a duplicate of some files

  • Some of your files are missing particular documents

  • How you associate with some of the applicants or beneficiaries is suspicious

While these may cause one to think you are hiding something, it is not sufficient to convict you. The investigators must research into the claims to ensure the evidence is conclusive. The court expects the prosecutor to produce real evidence showing you committed the offense you are accused of.

On the other hand, your attorney may argue you have duplicate files for safety or as a precaution, or some of the documents were missing because you were still working on them. With supporting evidence, your lawyer can create a doubt in the minds of jurors and have you exonerated for the offense.

False Allegations, or Mistaken Identity

A lot of reasons can lead to your being mistaken for a crime or facing false allegations. This defense works for both internal and beneficiary fraud. As a worker for the program, you can get accused of fraud, yet you never committed it despite the program having legitimate claims of embezzlement. In some cases, you may be acquainted with some applicants, and you trust them. Unknown to you, they can manipulate you and use you to receive more benefits. If they submit falsified documents or information, it may not occur to you that they may lie, and you fail to verify it.

If this happens, you are guilty of negligence but not of fraud or embezzlement of the program. This kind of mistake can result in your job's termination, but should not earn you a guilty verdict in court.

If you are a recipient of welfare benefits and are charged with fraud for listing a minor that doesn't exist, you can be found guilty. However, you may have asked someone to deliver the form on your behalf, and they altered the information you gave. People can do this if they have a vendetta against you and want to get you in trouble.

Other times, your identity can get stolen, and the impersonator uses your documents to apply for benefits fraudulently. Your lawyer can convince the court of your innocence by showing evidence of your stolen identity, and it was not you defrauding the welfare program. Other times, a clerical error is possible when filing your documents, and you get accused of fraud.

Regardless of how the allegations have been brought against you, your attorney can argue against the evidence.

Restitution or Compensation Agreement

In a fraud case, it is also a prosecutorial goal to retrieve the stolen monies on behalf of the welfare program. You can ask to repay the money taken in exchange for the reduction of your charges. When you are charged with a lesser offense, the penalties you receive are also less harsh. For example, if you defrauded from the program $30,000, you may offer to repay $25,000. This may see the prosecutor reduce your felony charges to misdemeanor ones and let go of a jail term penalty.

Different Offenses According to WIC 10980

This statute describes various ways you can get charged with welfare fraud. If you issue misleading or false statements to benefit from a program, you will get prosecuted on misdemeanor charges. If convicted, you may earn a fine of $500 or less and a jail sentence of six months. The statute also describes the following offenses in welfare fraud:

Filing Fraudulent Application

The crime of making a false application can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor if:

  • You are discovered to have applied severally for a single person

  • You made a fictitious application or request for a non-existent person to receive more benefits

  • You use information belonging to another person to make an application for benefits

If you get convicted on felony charges, you can earn a sixteen-month or twenty-four jail sentence or thirty-six. On top of your jail sentence, you will be fined $5,000.

The prosecution can decide on misdemeanor charges based on your criminal past and the facts of your offense. On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction earns you a year or less in county prison as well as a fine of $1,000 or less.

Keeping or Receiving Benefits

Keeping fraudulently earned benefits will earn you a misdemeanor conviction. If you received and kept benefits totaling $950 or less, you get county imprisonment for six months with a fine of $500.

If you are charged with a felony offense instead, it means the amount you earned and kept was above $950. A conviction will result in county jail incarceration for sixteen, or twenty-four, or thirty-six months. Additionally, you will be charged a fine of $5,000 or less.

Food Stamp Offense

Food stamps are benefits from a welfare program where fraud can be committed to them. If you are engaged in activities with blank authorization for food stamps, you are guilty of a felony offense. A conviction will see you jailed in county prison for between sixteen and thirty-six months. In addition to your jail term, a fine of $5,000 is charged.

Sometimes, this offense becomes a wobbler when you use, sell, transfer, possess, or buy food stamps illegally. If you moved food stamps electronically to benefit another person illegally, you would get prosecuted for this offense as well. When the value of the food stamps is $950 or less, the crime is a misdemeanor. A conviction will result in incarceration for six months or less, and a fine of $500.

When the value of the food stamps exceeds $950, you get charged with a felony. A conviction earns you not less than sixteen months in jail and not over three years. At the same time, the judge will charge you a fine of $5,000 or less.

Transfer of Benefits Electronically

According to WIC 10980, you can get charged with fraud if you electronically transfer benefits. This also serves to enhance your penalties if charged with fraud. The punishments you received are served consecutively with the original sentence. These enhancements include:

  • If the transferred benefits were over $50,000, you earn an extra year of incarceration

  • If you transferred benefits worth $150,000 or more, you would gain two more years to your sentence

  • Moving more than one million dollars earns three additional years of imprisonment and

  • Any amount over $2.5 will see you serve four other years in prison

Additional Repercussions to Welfare Fraud

In addition to the legal penalties you receive for the offense, a conviction on welfare fraud earns you further repercussions:

  • If you hold a professional license, the board responsible for issuing your licenses will discipline you. Professional license holders are automatically affected if convicted of a crime, especially that of moral turpitude.

  • An immigrant is faced with the possibility of deportation if convicted of welfare fraud and

  • If you require public aid later in life, your record can disqualify you.

Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me

Welfare fraud is a severe offense in California that carries significant consequences upon conviction. When accused of this offense, you have a right to a fair trial with an experienced lawyer. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we can help you fight these charges and avoid severe consequences. To further discuss your case, call us at 714-262-4833.