Welfare fraud is a financially motivated, nonviolent crime, also known as a white-collar crime, involving the act of illegally obtaining welfare benefits from the government by knowingly withholding relevant information or submitting false information. A conviction of Los Angeles welfare fraud can come with harsh penalties, possibly including fines, probation, restitution, and a county jail or state prison sentence. In many cases, a welfare fraud charge is accompanied by other criminal charges, possibly including grand theft, forgery, perjury and conspiracy. If you have been arrested for or charged with welfare fraud in Los Angeles, don’t hesitate to retain a knowledgeable and reputable criminal defense attorney who can help you protect your rights. Our defense lawyers at Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles are intimately familiar with California law and will aggressively defend you from the moment you are arrested to the conclusion of your case.
Affordable Welfare Fraud Defense Attorney Los Angeles
With a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney on your side, you may be able to get your welfare fraud charges reduced to a lesser offense or your criminal penalties decreased. In some cases, you may be able to avoid a criminal conviction altogether. For example, if you are able to repay all or a significant percentage of the money you are accused of stealing, a criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to secure a favorable plea deal or an agreement on sentencing. Some counties in California even offer welfare fraud diversion programs, which allow certain defendants facing minor charges with little or no criminal history the opportunity to repay the stolen money in exchange for having the criminal charges dismissed altogether.
The term “welfare” refers to public assistance programs created to provide various types of support to unemployed and underemployed individuals in the state of California. There are a variety of welfare benefits available to eligible participants in California, including:
Welfare fraud is considered a white-collar crime and the offense is typically committed by welfare recipients – known as recipient fraud – or employees within the system – known as internal fraud. The most common type of welfare fraud is recipient fraud, a crime that occurs when a person makes false statements or provides incomplete information when applying for benefits or food stamps, in order to unlawfully receive or attempt to receive benefits which they are not legitimately entitled to collect. Internal welfare fraud occurs when a government employee plays a role in distributing benefits to recipients whom they know are not legitimately eligible. Some common examples of a California resident trying to obtain unlawful welfare benefits include:
- Submitting a claim for a child who does not live in the home
- Failing to report additional income or other benefits
- Claiming that he or she is a single parent when the child’s other parent lives in the home as well
- Collecting benefits from another state while also collecting benefits from California
- Submitting a claim for fictitious or ineligible children
Conviction for Welfare Fraud Welfare and Institutions Code § 10980
In welfare fraud cases, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. This means that, in order to be convicted of welfare fraud in Los Angeles, the prosecution must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the crime. Keep in mind that, even if the evidence against you strongly suggests that you committed welfare fraud, you cannot be found guilty of the crime unless the prosecutor can provide irrefutable evidence establishing that you:
- Knowingly made a false statement, failed to provide relevant information or submitted an otherwise fraudulent welfare claim;
- For the purpose of obtaining welfare benefits you were not entitled to collect.
Penalties for a Welfare Fraud Conviction
The penalties associated with a welfare fraud conviction in California vary, depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal record. Most instances of California welfare fraud are covered under Welfare and Institutions Code § 10980 WIC, which makes it illegal to: intentionally misstate information or fail to provide relevant information in order to obtain, increase or retain undeserved welfare benefits; transfer, purchase, sell, alter or counterfeit food stamps or authorizations to receive food stamps; and/or apply for welfare benefits under more than one name or file multiple applications to receive multiple benefits. Some of these crimes are straight misdemeanor offenses and others are straight felonies, but for the most part, California welfare fraud offenses are wobblers, meaning they can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, at the discretion of the prosecutor. The different offenses covered under Welfare and Institutions Code § 10980 WIC include the following:
- Making false or misleading statements (WIC 10980(a)) – A misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or up to $500 in fines
- Filing fraudulent applications WIC 10980(b) – A misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines, OR a felony offense punishable by up to 16 months, two years, or three years in county jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines
- Obtaining or retaining fraudulent benefits WIC 10980(c) – A misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or up to $500 in fines, OR a felony offense punishable by 16 months, two years or three years in county jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines
- Fraudulently participating in the food stamp program (WIC 10980(d) and WIC 10980(f)) – A misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or up to $500 in fines, OR a felony offense punishable by 16 months, two years or three years in county jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines
- Committing welfare fraud involving electronically transferred benefits – Additional and consecutive penalties on top of the sentence for welfare fraud, including one year of incarceration if the value of the benefits transferred exceeds $50,000, two years if it exceeds $150,000, three years if it exceeds $1,000,000, or four years if it exceeds $2,500,000
Welfare fraud is a major concern in the state of California, and most local district attorneys’ offices have formed their own welfare fraud units dedicated to investigating and prosecuting welfare fraud crimes. These fraud units receive tips from a number of sources, including public reporting hotlines or websites, local agencies that oversee the disbursement of benefits, and any other agencies that suspect incidents of welfare fraud, and will then contact the named recipient and possibly even his or her friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members to obtain information that may be useful in proving or disproving the fraud allegations. In some cases, unannounced home visits or witness interviews conducted in response to a welfare fraud tip may reveal additional issues, possibly including domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse or evidence of drug crimes, which can result in additional charges and increased criminal penalties. California defendants charged with internal welfare fraud can also face additional criminal charges of embezzlement (California Penal Code § 503), also known as employee theft.
Defenses to Welfare Fraud Charges
Unlawfully receiving welfare benefits you are not entitled to may not seem like a very serious offense, but fraud and other white-collar crimes are punished harshly in California. Fortunately, there are a number of legal defenses your criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf to explain, justify or excuse your alleged criminal behavior. The following are some legal defenses that may be helpful in your Los Angeles welfare fraud case:
- You didn’t have fraudulent intent
- You were falsely accused
- You are the victim of mistaken identity
- The prosecution has insufficient evidence
- You accidentally submitted multiple claims
- You legitimately believed you had a valid claim
Hiring a Qualified Welfare Fraud Defense Attorney in Los Angeles
If you lie or knowingly misstate the state of your personal or household finances so you can receive government welfare benefits you would otherwise not be entitled to, you could be charged with California welfare fraud and face significant criminal consequences. Committing welfare fraud is a serious financial crime that can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony offense, and if you are convicted of California welfare fraud, you could serve time in county jail or state prison and be forced to pay substantial fines, in addition to other criminal consequences. Contact our experienced defense team at Criminal Defense Attorney Los Angeles today for a free initial welfare fraud consultation.