Welfare fraud is a specific type of insurance fraud that is addressed under New York Penal Code 158.20. Welfare fraud is a large scale problem that costs the state of New York millions of dollars every year. Many people do not realize how serious welfare fraud is and the very real consequences of being convicted of this charge. Both law enforcement and the court system take this type of fraud very seriously and take a tough stand against people who commit welfare fraud. The consequences of a conviction can be severe with prison time and fines. It is important to understand exactly what welfare fraud entails and to know your legal rights if you are charged with this crime.
Welfare Fraud in the Second Degree Broken Down
New York Penal Code 158.20 states that a person is guilty of welfare fraud when s/he knowingly provides false information in an attempt to profit from the welfare system, and the public assistance benefits erroneously received are in excess of $50,000. This can include providing false information on an application, failing to report income or providing false information regarding income, or pretending to be another person. Public assistance benefits are defined as money, property, or services from federal, state, or local governmental agencies such as a department of social services.
Welfare fraud in the second degree is considered a class C felony. If convicted, sentencing could include state prison time of up to 15 years, probation of up to 5 years, restitution, and a fine.
Example of Welfare Fraud in the Second Degree
If someone lost their job and applied for unemployment, food stamps, medical assistance, rent assistance, etc they are required to notify the social service agencies when their income situation changes. If this person worked “under the table” for cash so that the income would not show up, that is considered welfare fraud. They are withholding crucial information that would affect the amount of the benefits they were entitled to receive. If the total amount of benefits they received exceeded $50,000, they could be prosecuted for welfare fraud in the second degree.
A defense against the charge of welfare fraud in the second degree could involve the amount of benefits received. To qualify under code 158.2, the total fraudulent benefits received must exceed $50,000. A good defense attorney will look at the total amount received and try to prove the majority of it was received legitimately. The lower the amount of benefits that were received under fraudulent circumstances, the “lighter” the charge and less severe the sentencing could be. While the charge of fraud in the second degree might not apply, there is still welfare fraud in the third (benefits exceed $3,000), fourth (benefits exceed $1,000), or fifth degrees (no dollar amount assigned).
Public assistance programs are set in place to help people get back on their feet when financial hardships hit. The court system takes a dim view of people who take advantage of these programs and try to cheat the system to receive money they are not entitled to. If you or someone you know is charged with welfare fraud in the second degree, it is critically important to contact an experienced New York defense attorney immediately. This is a serious charge that carries significant prison time, fines, and restitution of any benefits received. An experienced defense attorney could mean the difference between spending 15 years in prison or having the charges dropped altogether.