Acts of criminal theft is easily recognized as shoplifting from a department store, robbery or grand larceny. Rarely, if ever, would welfare fraud come to mind. Yet, according to New York’s penal code 158.05, a person commits a crime of theft through an act of welfare fraud. This crime occurs when a person steals from the government.
An example of this would be if you complete an application for welfare benefits with false information, and as a result, you receive the benefits. This is an act of welfare fraud. In New York, there are five welfare fraud offenses that can lead to charges.
The amount of public assistance that you receive from committing fraud determines the specific charge you will face. The least serious charge of welfare fraud is welfare fraud in the fifth degree.
Penal Code 158.05
New York’s Penal Code is designed to set legal standards for the process of defining criminal acts. Under section 158.05, welfare fraud in the fifth degree occurs when you receive public benefits from the government based on committing a fraudulent act related to welfare. Whenever you engage in any of the following acts, it is defined as a fraudulent welfare act:
• Knowingly including false information on an application to receive a public benefit card, then submitting to receive those benefits.
• Impersonating another person so you can get public assistance benefits.
• Establishing or maintaining eligibility for public assistance benefits by making a false statement. The same is true when you try to get an increase or prevent a reduction of public assistance benefits by making a false statement.
The welfare fraud statute defines “public assistance benefits” as services, property or money that is provided by federal, state or local government entities that social services districts or the department of social services administers.
Example of Welfare Fraud in the Fifth Degree
There are many scenarios that can lead to a charge of welfare fraud in the first degree. In this example case, defendant Kelvin Swain did not report the unemployment benefits that he was receiving. Yet, he applied for recertification to continue receiving public assistance benefits. Because of this, he received a conviction of welfare fraud in the fifth degree. The court ordered him to repay $824.24 of benefits that he received from committing the fraudulent act. People v. Swain (N.Y. App. Div., 2003)
If including false information on an application for public assistance was a mistake, you may have a valid defense against a welfare fraud charge. Likewise, making a false statement about something that is not considered a material issue, being charged with welfare fraud is not an appropriate charge.
Sentencing if Found Guilty
Welfare fraud in the fifth degree is the least criminal charge for a fraudulent welfare act. It is a class A misdemeanor and can result in a one year jail sentence if you are convicted. Other sentences can include three years of probation and a fine. Additionally, you will be required to repay the money that you received under fraudulent conditions.
Contact Spodek Law Group
Obtaining public assistance benefits through fraudulent means is a criminal act that a person can be found guilty of in court. Even though welfare fraud in the fifth degree is a misdemeanor, it is something that you should take seriously. Not only could you be put in jail, but you will have to repay the money you received under false conditions. Having a NYC criminal attorney to handle your case can help.
The Spodek Law Group offers a free consultation to discuss your case and determine how we can use over 50 years of experience to defend your misdemeanor charge. Contact us today to learn how we will represent you.