Welfare fraud is described as a rampant problem in Los Angeles County. The organization responsible for investigating welfare fraud in Los Angeles reportedly completed more than 14,700 fraud-related investigations in 2015/2016. These investigations uncovered more than $8.1 million in fraudulent overpayments. As a result, 275 people were convicted of welfare fraud in Los Angeles County during that time.
The financial costs associated with welfare fraud can be extreme. Each year, billions of dollars are lost to fraudulent claims. California has imposed tough laws and criminal sentences for those who are convicted of welfare fraud. These laws are intended to deter and punish fraudulent behavior. If you have been accused of welfare fraud, then call Los Angeles welfare fraud attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez for a free consultation. Ambrosio is a former prosecutor with over 18 years experience. Contact us today so we can discuss your best legal options.
What is Welfare Fraud?
Welfare fraud is the act of lying or misstating your personal or household financial situation so that you can receive government welfare benefits that you would not otherwise be entitled to collect. Welfare benefits in California include:
- CalFresh (Food Stamps)
- CalWORKs (TANF)
- Head Start
- Medicaid, and
- Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
You could face criminal consequences if you apply for any of these (or other California) welfare benefits and misrepresent or misstate your actual need.
California Welfare Fraud Law
In California, it is a crime to knowingly submit inaccurate information in order to recover welfare benefits. The law, which is found in California Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 WIC, makes it a crime to deliberately, for the purpose of obtaining, receiving, or increasing undeserved welfare benefits:
- Misstate information, or fail to provide relevant information;
- Apply for benefits under more than one name;
- File multiple applications; or
- Use, transfer, acquire, purchase, sell, possess, alter, or counterfeit food stamps.
This broad California law applies to a variety of fraudulent behaviors. However, if you are charged with welfare fraud in California the prosecution must prove that you are guilty of each element of the crime with which you are charged. This means that the prosecution must prove that you:
- Made a false statement or failed to provide relevant information or submitted an otherwise fraudulent claim;
- For the purpose of securing welfare benefits that you were not entitled to have.
Welfare Fraud Investigations
Many California counties, including Los Angeles County, have dedicated welfare fraud investigative units. In Los Angeles County, the Welfare Fraud Prevention and Investigation Unit (WFP&I) is responsible for looking into reported incidents of possible welfare fraud. The investigators who work for these welfare fraud units are generally responsible for providing prosecutors and law enforcement officials with the evidence they need to support accusations of welfare fraud. The WFP&I employs more than 100 investigators who work on cases that are referred to the unit. Referrals can come from a number of sources, including the Central Fraud Reporting Line, We Tip, public and private agencies, and district staff.
Welfare fraud investigators gather information and evidence in welfare fraud cases. Investigations may include:
- Speaking directly with welfare benefit recipients to confirm the information provided is complete, accurate, and true;
- Speaking with friends, family, and employers of welfare benefit recipients;
- Reviewing welfare benefit applications; and
- Analyzing income trends.
Prosecutors often work hand-in-hand with WFP&I investigators. Investigators can refer cases with strong evidence of welfare fraud to California district attorneys for prosecution. Alternatively, prosecutors can ask investigators to dig deeper into cases that have already been opened.
Penalties for Welfare Benefit Fraud
Welfare fraud can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense in California. The actual charges you face will depend on (1) the type of fraud you are accused of committing, and (2) the value of the fraudulent benefits you received (or attempted to receive).
False or Misleading Statement [WIC 10980(a)]
It is a misdemeanor offense to make a false or misleading statement to receive welfare benefits. If convicted of misdemeanor welfare fraud you can face up to six months in jail and/or be required to pay $500 in fines.
False or Multiple Application [WIC 10980(b)]
The crime of welfare fraud can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony if:
- You file multiple applications;
- Apply for aid as a fictitious person; or
- Use a false identity.
A misdemeanor conviction for submitting more than application or submitting an application for a fictitious person is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and/or a fine of $1,000.
A felony conviction for submitting more than application or submitting an application for a fictitious person is punishable by 16 months, two years, or three years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000.
Obtaining or Receiving False Welfare Benefits [WIC 10980(c)]
The charge for obtaining or receiving false welfare benefits under 10980( ) WIC will depend on the value of the benefits.
Receiving fraudulent benefits is a misdemeanor if the value of those benefits is $950 or less. A conviction carries a possible sentence of six months in jail and/or a fine of $1,000.
Receiving fraudulent benefits is a felony if the value of those benefits is more than $950. A conviction carries a possible sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000.
Using Blank Food Stamp (SNAP) Authorizations [WIC 10980(d)]
The crime of using, transferring, acquiring, or possessing blank authorizations for food stamps without authorization is a felony offense. A conviction carries a possible sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000. If you counterfeit or alter food stamp authorizations you can also face charges for criminal forgery.
Food Stamp Fraud [WIC 10980(f)]
The crime of food stamp fraud can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense. Food stamp fraud can involve either CalFresh or SNAP benefits.
Food stamp fraud is a misdemeanor if the value of the benefits is $950 or less. A conviction carries a possible punishment of six months in jail and/or a fine of $1,000.
Food stamp fraud is a felony if the value of the benefits is more than $950. A conviction carries a possible punishment of 16 months, two years, or three years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000.
The crime of food stamp fraud will be aggravated if the fraud was “by means of an electronic transfer of benefits.” You could face an additional one to four years in prison if you commit food stamp fraud involving electronic benefits.
Each separate act of welfare fraud can be charged as a separate offense. Committing more than one act of welfare benefit fraud can result in a lengthy term of imprisonment and/or hefty monetary fines.
Welfare Fraud Diversion Programs
California has a welfare fraud problem. In an effort to minimize the criminal consequences for first-time and low-level offenders, some counties have created fraud diversion programs. If a California county has a diversion program, a person accused of welfare fraud may be able to participate instead of going to jail.
These programs often require participants to plead guilty and commit to repaying the benefits they unlawfully received. Once the benefits have been paid in full the court will revisit the case and dismiss the charges. If you fail to reimburse the government for the fraudulent benefits the court will formally accept your guilty plea and impose a criminal sentence.
Contact an experienced California welfare fraud defense attorney for more information about welfare fraud diversion programs that may be available in your case.
Defenses to Charges of Welfare Fraud
An accusation of welfare fraud does not automatically mean that you will be charged with or convicted of a crime. If you are charged with welfare fraud the prosecution must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the Constitutional right to defend yourself against any accusations of criminal wrongdoing. Hiring an experienced Los Angeles welfare fraud attorney is the best thing you can do if you have been accused of welfare fraud.
Your criminal defense attorney will argue any defense that may be appropriate for your case. Defenses to welfare fraud in California may include:
- Lack of intent to receive unlawful benefits;
- Accidental submission of multiple claims;
- Legitimate belief of a valid claim;
- Failure to report income was accidental or without fraudulent intent; and
- False accusation.
Fighting Allegations of Welfare Fraud
A conviction for welfare fraud can have serious criminal and non-criminal consequences. Not only could you land behind bars, but you could also be prohibited from receiving welfare benefits in the future. Many Californians depend on welfare benefits to care for themselves and their families. If you have been accused of welfare fraud it is important to defend yourself. Hiring an attorney to handle your case is the best way to achieve the best possible outcome. Contact Los Angeles welfare fraud attorney Ambrosio E. Rodriguez today to learn more.