Welfare Fraud: Accusations, Prosecutions, and Defenses
Throughout the State of California, local task forces have been established to prevent welfare fraud. These task forces are well-staffed with enthusiastic investigators who build strong cases before handing them off to prosecutors.
Local prosecutors are eager to convict people of welfare fraud. It provides good headlines and helps get them reelected. Prosecutors have a lot of discretion when it comes to which cases they decide to pursue and the type of penalties they seek.
If you are being investigated for welfare fraud, you could be looking at serious jail time. It’s important to have an experienced Los Angeles white-collar criminal defense attorney by your side to protect your freedom.
What Is Welfare Fraud?
Welfare fraud occurs when a person knowingly provides false information in an application so they can receive benefits they are not entitled to. For fraud to occur, the false information must be provided intentionally, with the intent to deceive. If someone makes an honest mistake, then they aren’t guilty of fraud.
In Los Angeles County, the Welfare Fraud Prevention and Investigation Section (WFP&I) investigates fraud in the following areas:
- CalFresh (food stamps)
- General Relief
- Head Start
- Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Penalties for Welfare Fraud
Filing a fraudulent application is a wobbler offense in California. It may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the number and type of false applications submitted. A felony conviction carries up to three years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.
CalWORKS and CalFresh use EBT cards that are subject to large-scale fraud. Stealing EBT cards, cloning them, or electronically draining EBT accounts carries stiff federal penalties of up to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. In addition to criminal penalties, vendors that participate in food stamp fraud may be disqualified from accepting government EBT cards in the future.
Government officials may face criminal penalties for knowingly assigning any form of welfare to people who are not eligible.
Behaviors that may be prosecuted as welfare fraud include:
- Failure to report income
- Falsely claimed dependents
- Receiving benefits from multiple states
- Failure to report that a child has moved out
- Collecting benefits under more than one name
- Failure to provide relevant information when filing
- Filing a false application
- Filing multiple applications
- Impersonating someone else on an application
- Using a false identity on an application
- Counterfeiting, using, purchasing, or selling altered food stamps
Legal Defenses Against Charges of Welfare Fraud
If you were charged with welfare fraud, you may have made an honest mistake. It’s also possible that someone stole your identity or you were caught up in a scam perpetrated by someone else.
Investigators will question you if they suspect you have committed any type of welfare fraud, and you will want to have a criminal defense attorney present when they do. They will also speak with your friends, coworkers, family members, and employers. Investigators will review your benefits and analyze your income and financial records.
Your criminal defense attorney will choose the best legal defense against charges of welfare fraud. You may also be eligible for a diversionary program that allows you to avoid jail and criminal prosecution.
Defenses that our criminal defense lawyers at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP have used to win these cases include:
- There was no fraudulent intent.
- You were the victim of false accusations.
- You forgot an important detail in your filing.
- You were the victim of identity theft.
- The failure to report was entirely accidental.
- You never intended to receive illegal benefits.
- You legitimately believed you were making a valid claim.
Are You Facing Criminal Charges?
At Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP, we have a national reputation for winning big cases with high-profile clients. In fact, our firm has been featured on Fox News, ABC News, CNBC, and the BBC, as well as in Esquire and the Los Angeles Times.
Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP has an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest possible rating for ethical standards and legal ability. Super Lawyer has recognized our Los Angeles firm for providing superior service.
Our attorneys will find the best strategy to get your case dropped or dismissed. Call (213) 688-0460 to schedule a case review today.