Any type of fraudulent action with the intention of getting more welfare benefits than one deserves is a form of welfare fraud. If you’ve been accused of this crime, it’s in your best interest to contact a skilled welfare fraud lawyer right away to go over your options with you, prepare a defense and represent you.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the common types of welfare fraud that people commit and the degrees of welfare fraud.
Common Types of Welfare Fraud
Welfare fraud encompasses a broad category of fraudulent actions. However, there are common ways that people commit this type of crime.
The most common is providing false information to the welfare office. For example, if you report a lower income than you actually make or if you report that you have more people living in your household than you really do, each would be welfare fraud. There’s also failure to report certain income. This is common among people who get paid under the table or receive tips in cash.
The law requires you to report all your income to the welfare office when applying for or receiving welfare. If your income changes while you’re receiving welfare, you’re supposed to report the changes immediately. Failure to do so is fraud.
People can also commit fraud when they receive food stamps. They typically do so by selling the food stamps for money or exchanging them for prohibited items.
The Five Degrees of Welfare Fraud
There are five degrees of welfare fraud, with welfare fraud in the fifth degree being the least severe and welfare fraud in the first degree being the most severe. For a person to be guilty of any of the five degrees of welfare fraud, the prosecution must prove the following elements:
• There was a fraudulent welfare action.
• The person committing this action knew what they were doing and intended to defraud the welfare office.
Welfare fraud in the fifth degree only has the above two requirements. This is a class A misdemeanor and if you’re convicted, the maximum punishment is 1 year in jail.
To be convicted of welfare fraud in the fourth degree, you must have fraudulently obtained benefits worth over $1,000. This is a class D felony and the maximum punishment is a prison sentence that ranges from 2 years, 4 months to 7 years. It’s an indeterminate sentence, and that means the department of corrections will make the call on how much of the time you end up serving.
If you fraudulently obtained benefits worth over $3,000, then that’s welfare fraud in the third degree, a class D felony. The maximum punishment is the same as it is for welfare fraud in the fourth degree.
When the value of the fraudulently obtained benefits is over $50,000, it’s welfare fraud in the second degree, a class C felony. The maximum punishment is an indeterminate ranging anywhere from 5 to 15 years.
Finally, there is welfare fraud in the first degree, which is the charge when the value of the fraudulently obtained benefits is over $1,000,000. This is a class B felony, and it carries a maximum punishment of an indeterminate sentence ranging from 8 years, 4 months to 25 years.
Keep in mind that these are all maximum sentences. With a good lawyer to defend you, you’re unlikely to get the maximum, although this will depend on the circumstances surrounding your case.
Besides a prison sentence, you may need to pay restitution for the amount you received fraudulently, along with possible penalties.
Defending Yourself Against Accusations of Welfare Fraud
It’s good to consult with a welfare fraud lawyer as soon as possible when you’re facing fraud accusations, because that allows them plenty of time to prepare the best possible defense for you. They can evaluate your case and what specifically you’re accused of, find the best way to defend you and possibly negotiate with the prosecution for a plea bargain.
One of the key points in a welfare fraud case is whether the fraud was intentional. As you can see above, this is always a requirement for a welfare fraud conviction, no matter the degree of the fraud. If you simply forgot to report a change in income or the number of people in your household, that wouldn’t fit the bill. You would still need to return any extra benefits you received because of the mistake, but you could avoid a conviction for welfare fraud, provided you can create reasonable doubt about intentionally receiving those extra benefits. To help your lawyer better defend you, make sure you bring all the evidence you can to support your case and any paperwork you have about the charges of welfare fraud.
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