When you use fraudulent means like giving false or wrong information to acquire welfare benefits that you are not eligible for from the government, you are deemed to have committed welfare fraud. The crime attracts severe penalties, including restitution, fines, or incarceration upon sentencing. Therefore, if you have been accused or charged with welfare fraud, you will need profound and experienced defense lawyers. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we are here to ensure that guilt is not assumed, but instead, it is proven.
Legal Definition of Welfare Fraud
California WIC 10980 is made up of two categories of welfare fraud, which are recipient and internal fraud. The welfare recipient fraud happens when you willfully and knowingly with the purpose of deceiving, make a false statement, or submit inaccurate information to obtain aid or welfare, food stamp, or other government benefits that you are not entitled to. Internal fraud, on the other hand, happens when a public official knows that a specific recipient is not eligible for the aid but assigns or disburses the benefits to the ineligible recipients.
The charges brought against you under WIC 10980 can be a misdemeanor or felony based. They will depend on your criminal record in the event there is any of the evidence in your case.
Precise Explanation of Welfare
Welfare is a term with many definitions, but in this case, it refers to government-funded programs designed to assist the poor or underemployed, unemployed, and other people struggling to make ends meet in California. Welfare benefits are available to eligible beneficiaries in many forms. Discussed below are some of the welfare benefit programs in Los Angeles:
- CalWORKS - In full, this program is called the California Work Opportunities and Responsibilities to Kids. Before, it was known as ADFC and its California’s first benefits program providing families in need of shelter, food, clothing, and medical care with short-term money.
- Medi-Cal - It is a Medicaid program that provides medical insurance coverage for Californians, both adults, and children with low income. However, although the program is a form of welfare benefit when fraud occurs, prosecutors trial the case separately from other types of welfare fraud.
- GA/GR (General Assistance or General Relief) - The program is designed to provide aid to indigent adults who aren’t entitled or are not recipients of other public aid
- GAIN (Greater Avenues for Independence). The platform is designed to provide mandatory help to CalWORKs beneficiaries to find meaningful employment, stay employed, and advance their careers.
Keep in mind that today food stamps and checks are becoming outdated because platforms like CalWORKs and CalFRESH transfer money electronically. Recipients of these cash aid are issued with EBT cards, which they use the same way as debit cards.
According to California WIC 10980, when an applicant of any of the above programs gives false info or fails to report relevant information with the intent of acquiring welfare benefits commits welfare fraud. Remember that every case is different, so you or anyone in Los Angeles should share the details with their specific criminal defense attorneys so that they can explain the legal rights and options.
The majority of cases involving welfare fraud occur when you:
- Knowingly misstate information or fail to give pertinent info to acquire, retain, or increase unwarranted welfare benefits.
- Filing multiple application forms or applying for benefits under more than one to acquire several benefits.
- Use, handover, sell, have under your control, obtain, buy, forge, or alter consent to receive food stamps or real food.
Investigating Welfare Fraud
The local prosecuting agencies begin the process of investigating the crime of welfare fraud after getting information or tips from multiple sources. Many DA offices in Los Angeles have select welfare fraud units that conduct these investigations. Some of the sources of information about this form of fraud come from:
- Referrals and tips received from the public through hotlines and sites
- References and tips from local or state agencies in charge of disbursing welfare benefits
- Any other agency that suspects the commission of this form of fraud crime
The process of investigation starts when the investigating agency begins to follow the tips or referrals. They begin by reaching out to the beneficiary or recipient of public aid to inquire about the benefits they are currently receiving and the information they availed to be entitled to these benefits. The people investigating the case may talk to your work colleagues, friends, neighbors, and relatives to collect additional info that will be critical in negating or prosecuting this crime.
On a different note, when these investigators visit your neighbors or family members unannounced to interview witnesses, they might come across additional information including:
- Incidents where children have been abused or neglected
- Domestic violence cases
- Cases of abuse among senior citizens
- Proof of drug crimes
In such cases, other government agencies like child welfare, adult protective, family support, and government services that might be concerned with the case will be involved.
When the evidence relating to welfare fraud has been gathered and compiled, it is submitted to the deputy DA. This is the person who reviews the evidence presented to decide if the suspect whose proof is in the file should face criminal prosecution.
If the evidence is enough to file criminal charges, the DA will file charges under WIC 10980 or possibly under one or more related offenses. But if the evidence isn’t enough to warrant criminal charges, the case might be sent back to the relevant investigative agency for further investigation, reject the case based on lack of proof of wrongful act, or forward the file to the welfare fraud diversion program.
Examples of California Welfare Fraud
As mentioned earlier, California has two primary types of welfare fraud. These are:
Recipient Welfare Fraud
Recipient fraud occurs on the part of the person receiving the benefits. If you illegally try to collect or receive welfare benefits otherwise not entitled to, you commit recipient welfare fraud. You commit this form of fraud when in the following instances:
- When you claim to be a single parent whereas the other parent of the child or the absent parent resides in the same house.
- Refusing to report extra income or other public assistance benefits
- Submit a claim for public assistance for a fictitious child or one that doesn’t reside in your home.
- Presenting a claim for an ineligible child
- Receiving out of state welfare benefits along with those obtained from California
Cases of recipients of benefits using unlawful means to acquire benefits from the state are more prevalent than those of employees in the system issuing illegal benefits.
Internal Welfare Fraud
Internal fraud occurs when a worker of a welfare benefit agency collects or attempts to receive benefits or allocates benefits from the agency to people who are not legitimately eligible for these benefits. In most cases, these employees falsify an application for ineligible friends or family, so that once the aid is allocated, they can share the proceeds. They do this by:
- Creating made-up children
- Giving false information about the income of the recipient
- Fail to disclose facts that would disqualify these family members and friends from being recipients of the welfare benefits.
On top of the charges for WIC 10980 violations, employees of local or state agencies mandated with distributing welfare benefits might face an additional charge of embezzlement for mishandling public finances or property. PC 503, the statute that defines embezzlement, is violated when an employee misuses money or property that has been entrusted to them by the owner.
It means that a social worker in charge of distribution of welfare benefits or one who knows how to bypass the set guidelines and procedures that are critical in the authorization of benefits and misappropriated the benefits will be subject to a maximum of thirty-six months in prison. And if the amount embezzled is at least $65,000, there will be an additional sentence of between twelve to forty-eight months.
Potential Consequences of California Welfare Fraud
The consequences for WIC 10980 violations depend on the code section that has been breached. Some are direct misdemeanors, straight felonies, and other wobblers. A wobbler, in this case, refers to any charge that is registered either as a misdemeanor or a felony. The decision depends on the evidence in the case or your criminal record in case you have any. The penalties for welfare fraud under WIC 10980 are distributed as follows:
Misleading Statement (WIC 109870(a))
When a person makes a false or misleading report to try and receive or obtain benefits, the charge is filed as a misdemeanor. The punishment upon conviction is no more than a half a year in jail custody or court fines not exceeding five hundred dollars.
Registering a Fraudulent Application (WIC 10980(b))
When an applicant registers a fraudulent application by applying for benefits for a fictitious individual, applying for benefits by impersonating another person or presenting multiple applications for several benefits, the offense is filed as a wobbler.
If the preferred charge is a misdemeanor, you will be subject to no more than a year in jail custody or at most one thousand dollars in court fines. When you are accused of registering a fraudulent application, and the prosecutor decides to charge you with a felony, a conviction may attract a maximum of three years prison sentence, or a maximum court fine of five thousand dollars.
Acquiring or Holding Benefits (WIC 10980(c))
If you obtain or fraudulently hold benefits and the amount of the benefits not surpassing $950, the prosecutor will charge you with a misdemeanor. Upon sentencing, a misdemeanor charge under acquiring and retaining fraudulent benefits will attract no more than six months in jail or no more than $500 in court fines.
But if the amount of public assistance in question is at least or surpasses $950, the offense will be filed as a felony. The consequences for a felony include a maximum of five thousand dollars fine and jail custody of sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months.
Fraudulently Taking Part in Food Stamp Program (WIC 10980(d) & WIC 10980(f))
California WIC 10980d and WIC 10980f are concerned with food stamps. Under this code section, you will be criminally liable for involvement in illegal blank authorizations to participate in a food stamp program. The offense is registered as a felony, and it’s punishable by a maximum of five thousand dollars fine or a minimum of 16 months and a maximum of 36 months in jail.
In the event you use, handover, sell, buy or hold electronically transferred benefits, food stamps, or food stamp authorizations illegally, the offense will be deemed to be a wobbler. The value of the food stamps is what determines how the offense will be filed. If the value is at most $950, it will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, and a sentence will attract a maximum of a half a year in jail or court fines not surpassing five hundred dollars.
However, where the value is 950 dollars or more, the offense is a felony, and potential penalties include up to three years in jail or no more 5,000 dollars in court fines.
Electronically Transferred Benefits
When you commission or attempt to commit welfare fraud involving electronically transferred benefits, you will be subject to additional and subsequent penalties on top of the WIC 10980 penalties. The penalties include:
- Twelve months incarceration in jail if the value of electronically transferred benefits surpasses $50,000.
- Twenty-four months if the electronic transfer is at least one hundred and fifty dollars
- Thirty-six months incarceration if the transfer exceeds 1,000,000 dollars
- Fort-eight months sentence if the transfer is more than $2.5 million.
On top of the consequences stated above, if you hold a state license, you will be subject to:
- Professional discipline, mainly if the crime is classified as a crime of moral turpitude
- Deportation if you are an alien
- Disqualification from receiving any future public assistance
Restitution in Place of Criminal Charges
Based on the facts of your case, there are incidences where you might repay the fraudulently acquired benefits instead of having to face criminal charges. Some counties offer diversion programs where an individual with a clean criminal history and who has not deprived the county a lot of money may be allowed to repay the benefits obtained fraudulently in exchange for the removal of WIC 10980 charges.
A diversion program involves pleading guilty to the charges, and once you complete the program and reimburse the money acquired through fraudulent means, the court will drop the charges. However, refusal to complete the program and restitute the money you fraudulently earned from a public assistance program will make the judge pronounce a judgment and impose appropriate punishments.
It’s worth noting that it is not all the time that the prosecution will allow you to repay the money instead of having to face criminal charges. So, in such an incident where the prosecutor is not willing to agree to a diversion program, you could still repay the ill-obtained benefits on your own will. Although this doesn’t mean the charges will be dropped, once the jury learns that you paid restitution, they will be lenient when imposing a sentence, and you might face lesser consequences.
Fighting Welfare Fraud Charges
Fraudulently receiving welfare benefits, you are not entitled to might seem like a less severe offense. However, California punishes fraud crime offenders harshly. Fortunately, with the guidance of a criminal defense attorney, it is possible to contest the charges. Discussed below are some of the legal defenses that can be applied to challenge WIC 10980 charges.
You Lacked the Intent to Commit Fraud
When it comes to California fraud crimes, you will not end up with a conviction if the prosecutor cannot demonstrate that your actions were motivated by fraudulent intent. If the prosecutor cannot prove you planned on defrauding a public assistance program, then the jury is going to find you innocent.
Similarly, if your attorney can prove that:
- You were genuinely presenting accurate information, and any false statements and inaccurate information was involuntary.
- You didn’t realize you were required to report specific sources of income like a lottery win, gifts, and inheritance.
- You forgot to update your status after one of your kids became unentitled to the benefits.
In such scenarios, the jury is likely to find you innocent because your actions were not motivated by fraudulent intent.
Lack of Evidence
The prosecuting attorney must prove beyond reasonable certainty that you committed this fraud crime. Circumstantial facts won’t be enough to show you are criminally liable for the misconduct. In such cases, you could argue through your defense attorney that there is insufficient evidence. This defense strategy is common in internal welfare fraud where your employer accuses you of fraud.
For instance, if you are accused of welfare fraud by your employer because:
- You were found in possession of multiple duplicate files
- documents were often missing from your case files
- You were in constant communication with some applicants
The evidence is inconclusive. Although this evidence appears robust and damaging, it doesn’t conclusively show you were embezzling funds. You are entitled to acquittal in such cases where the prosecution’s facts about the incident are inconclusive.
Your defense attorney could also assert that although the welfare fraud claim is genuine, you are falsely accused, or it is a case of mistaken identity. This defense strategy is commonly used in internal welfare fraud, but in rare circumstances, it might be used under recipient fraud.
If your family members or friends know that you work for the department or government agency that receives and verifies claims for welfare benefits, they might be tempted to give false or incorrect information because they are close to you. And if you go ahead to accept their applications thinking that because you know them, the information they have provided is accurate, you might find yourself facing allegations of welfare fraud. In such an incident, you acted negligently by not verifying the documents as required, but this doesn’t warrant welfare fraud charges.
The attorney could also assert that someone stole your identity as an eligible recipient and used it to apply for the benefits.
Primarily, several reasons are available why a defendant might face false accusations. So, it is up to your attorney to review the facts of the case and prove your innocence.
The core objective of prosecutors handling welfare fraud cases is to recoup the monies for the government. So, if you agree to repay all or a substantial amount of the benefits you are accused of obtaining fraudulently, they might decide to drop the charges or offer a lenient sentence.
California WIC 10980 involves things like theft, forgery, and perjury. For this reason, the prosecuting attorney might decide to charge you with the following crimes alongside or instead of welfare fraud.
PC 487 is the statute that outlines grand theft. As per the law, it is a crime to take somebody else’s property whose value is at least $950 without permission. It means that if you use unlawful means to obtain unemployment benefits worth above 950 dollars, you could face up to three years in jail or a fine of no more than $10,000 in the event of a conviction.
The crime of forgery is outlined under PC 470, and it forbids you from creating, changing, or using a written document to commit fraud. So, if you sign another person’s name when applying for benefits or counterfeit or alter food stamps, the prosecutor could charge you with forgery on top of welfare fraud. If convicted for forgery, you will be subject to up to $10,000 fine and no more than three years in jail.
When applying for welfare benefits and you submit a false name, with a wrong social security number or other deliberately falsified information, you commit perjury under PC 118. The prosecutor can charge you with both perjury and welfare fraud. A sentence for perjury will result in 24, 36, or 48 months in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 dollars.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you have been accused of deliberately misstating or lying about your personal or household finances to receive benefits you are not entitled to, you need a welfare fraud defense attorney to fight the charges. Contact us today at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney at 310-564-2605 for a free consultation.