Welfare fraud is a serious crime that can result in fines and even a prison sentence, depending on the amount that you obtained fraudulently. That’s why if you’re being charged with welfare fraud, it’s smart to hire an experienced welfare fraud attorney to help you with your defense. Whether you’re convicted will depend significantly on the quality of your defense and creating reasonable doubt that what you did fit the definition of fraud.
Welfare fraud covers many different crimes and can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. Here’s what you need to know about it and how you can fight the charge.
Degrees of Welfare Fraud
The state of New York recognizes five degrees of welfare fraud, and the degree of the fraud depends on the amount that was fraudulently obtained. Here are the degrees of welfare fraud, the amounts they cover and potential punishments:
• Welfare fraud in the first degree, class B felony – The value of the stolen benefits must exceed $1 million. With no priors for the defendant, minimum punishment is indeterminate sentence from one to three years in prison. Maximum punishment is indeterminate sentence from eight years, four months to 25 years in prison.
• Welfare fraud in the second degree, class C felony – The value of the stolen benefits must exceed $50,000. With no priors for the defendant, this crime doesn’t have a minimum punishment. Maximum punishment is indeterminate sentence from five to 15 years in prison.
• Welfare fraud in the third degree, class D felony – The value of the stolen benefits must exceed $3,000. With no priors for the defendant, this crime doesn’t have a minimum punishment. Maximum punishment is indeterminate sentence from two years, four months to seven years in prison.
• Welfare fraud in the fourth degree, class D felony – The value of the stolen benefits must exceed $1,000. With no priors for the defendant, this crime doesn’t have a minimum punishment. Maximum punishment is indeterminate sentence from two years, four months to seven years in prison.
• Welfare fraud in the fifth degree, class A misdemeanor – The value of the stolen benefits must be $1,000 or less. With no priors for the defendant, this crime doesn’t have a minimum punishment. Maximum punishment is one year in jail.
What Is an Indeterminate Sentence?
This means that you’re initially sentenced to a specific range of time, such as the ranges listed above. How much of that time you serve will depend on the department of corrections, which decides when you can be released. Good behavior could result in a shorter sentence.
Other Requirements for Welfare Fraud
The degree of the welfare fraud corresponds to the monetary value of the stolen benefits, but every degree also has two other key requirements. The first is that you did something constituting fraud. The second is that you did this intentionally to misappropriate welfare benefits.
Examples of Welfare Fraud
Now that you know the details of welfare fraud, let’s look at how it works in practice. It can be fraudulently taking advantage of any kind of government assistance program, including cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid or housing benefits, to name just a few.
Among the most common ways to commit welfare fraud is filling out a fraudulent application. This is when you include false information or omit information to obtain welfare benefits. Many applicants under-report their income, especially if they have work where they receive their pay under the table.
Food stamps can only pay for specific items and are not to be exchanged for cash. Despite that, many recipients commit welfare fraud by selling their food stamps for money, or buying a prohibited item, such as alcohol, and having the cashier ring it up as something else. Some cashiers do this and ring up a higher-priced, legitimate item, and then pocket the extra money. In that situation, both the person using the food stamps and the cashier would be committing fraud.
Preparing Your Defense Against Welfare Fraud
Besides the potential jailtime that comes with a conviction for welfare fraud, you could also be looking at civil penalties forcing you to pay back anything you obtained through welfare fraud, along with additional fees. And when you’re convicted of welfare fraud, that will almost always mean you can no longer apply for benefits.
A skilled lawyer can make all the difference when you’re charged with welfare fraud. They can put together the best defense based on your specific case. For example, if you forgot to report certain income, the court may realize it was a simple mistake and not an intentional act of fraud, but a lawyer gives you the best bet at proving that. The sooner you find yours, the sooner they can start building your defense.
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