If you’re dealing with an accusation of food stamp fraud, you shouldn’t take it lightly. Depending on whether you have any priors on your record and the amount of benefits you’re accused of obtaining fraudulently, there could be jailtime involved in your sentence. Even if you avoid that, you could still end up paying restitution for the benefits you obtained and fines, and you won’t be able to ever apply for food stamps again.
It’s important to know what you’re dealing with when you’re charged with food stamp fraud. This post will get you up to speed and help you figure out your next move.
How Food Stamp Fraud Works
Before we get into food stamp fraud examples, it’s important to note that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the organization that issues food stamps in all 50 states, and it doesn’t issue real stamps anymore, it issues an EBT debit card and loads funds onto each recipient’s card.
The charge of food stamp fraud can apply to the recipients of SNAP benefits and retailers who take part in SNAP and accept the program’s EBT cards.
Quite a few types of food stamp fraud exist, but it falls under the following two categories:
• Obtaining benefits through false information.
• Use of an EBT card in ways not authorized by SNAP.
These two categories cover a variety of different situations. Here’s a more in-depth look at both categories.
Providing false information is a common way for people to receive approval for SNAP benefits when they don’t meet the guidelines, or to get more benefits than they would qualify for otherwise. When you apply for SNAP benefits, you need to provide quite a bit of information about yourself, your occupation, your income and the number of people in your household. Lying about any of this is food stamp fraud.
It’s important to note that providing false information isn’t the only way that false information could lead to food stamp fraud. Failure to update information with your local SNAP office is also food stamp fraud. For example, if you had three children living with you when you filled out the application, but one of them later moves out, you’d need to notify SNAP about it so that your benefit amounts can be updated for your new household size.
Now, we’ll look at how an EBT card could be used in ways SNAP doesn’t authorize. Even though it’s a debit card, it’s still only intended for purchasing food, and it’s fraud if you try to use the card to purchase any prohibited items. You also can’t sell the card or your benefits for cash. An example of this would be if you and a retailer made a deal that you would purchase $100 worth of products using your EBT card, and instead of the products, they would give you $80 cash instead. You and the retailer would both be guilty of food stamp fraud.
Degrees of Food Stamp Fraud
In New York, food stamp fraud falls under the category of welfare fraud, which has five degrees. The degrees are as follows:
• First-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get over $1 million. This would be unlikely on a consumer’s part, but it can happen with retailers who run food stamp fraud rings that involve many customers.
• Second-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get over $50,000 up to $1 million.
• Third-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get over $3,000 up to $50,000.
• Fourth-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get over $1,000 up to $3,000.
• Fifth-degree welfare fraud is when you fraudulently get up to $1,000.
Each of these degrees of fraud have different minimum and maximum punishments. Fifth-degree welfare fraud is the only misdemeanor, and it’s a class A misdemeanor, which means it will typically have the lightest punishment. The rest are felonies – class D felonies for fourth and third-degree welfare fraud, a class C felony for second-degree welfare fraud and a class B felony for first-degree welfare fraud.
Defending Yourself When Charged with Food Stamp Fraud
Food stamp fraud cases can be complex, and that’s why it’s vital that you have a good lawyer. Our New York City food stamp fraud law firm has plenty of skilled lawyers who can represent you. We’ll start by evaluating the prosecution’s case. For this reason, it’s a good idea to bring us any paperwork you have about what you’re being charged with, along with evidence you can use to defend yourself, as soon as possible.
We can then figure out the best defense strategy, negotiate plea bargains on your behalf and represent you in a trial.
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