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It is hard to live on food stamps. If you receive this form of government assistance, then you are no doubt going through a tough time. The events and conditions that led you to your current life have not all subsided. You may still find it difficult to feed your family and make ends meet even with the food stamps. This can tempt you into breaking the law or skirting enough of it to ensnare you into a larger investigation involving benefit fraud.
Being charged with food stamp, or snap, fraud is not a little deal. If you are charged, tried, and found guilty, the penalties can be severe (http://thelawdictionary.org/article/penalties-for-food-stamp-fraud/). It is therefore necessary to know the different actions that the law considers food stamp fraud.
You may be working but not making enough to provide enough for your family. The food stamp program is a subsidy to help low-income families buy groceries so that they do not starve to death. Various modifications have been made over time that places more of a burden on able-bodies persons to prove that they are trying to get the kind of work that will take them off the program. If you are like most people in your situation, meeting this aim is not that straightforward.
There is a great deal of competition for steady, good-paying jobs. The trend for lower wage jobs puts enormous pressures on people who are already in difficult and precarious circumstances. You may not be able to get the hours you need to pay your living expenses and feed your family. You may have turned to odd jobs that pay more and that are off the books.
The law requires you to report such income; but if you receive cash-only payments then it can be difficult to keep track of how much exactly you’re bringing in. The instinct to leave it unreported may also be spurred by the fact that the cash you receive is sporadic and unsteady, and that reporting it will lead to a reduction to your food stamp benefits. If you do this, you are breaking the law. Whether intentional or unintentional you will need representation if caught, arrested, and charged.
Food stamp trafficking is another kind of fraud. You should know that federal authorities are pursuing this particular line of fraud quite aggressively (https://www.fns.usda.gov/fraud/what-snap-fraud). Food stamp trafficking involves selling food stamps for hard cash or other items. An overdue utility bill or need to pay rent may tempt you to exchange food stamps for cash or other things of value—things that you may be able to sell for cash. You may think such activity legitimate, but it is not. Although you may have only the most noble intentions—to ensure that you and your family are not evicted—food stamp trafficking is illegal, and you will be prosecuted if found out.
Purchasing unauthorized items at the grocer is also a form of food stamp fraud. Such cases often involve a small neighborhood retailer. You may know the owner or have an arrangement with someone else who works there whereby you are able to buy alcohol and cigarettes using food stamps. This kind of activity may go undetected for a period of time. All that has to be done is for the unauthorized items to be rung up as something else. However, operations of this kind do not go on indefinitely. Someone is likely to find out and report you and the grocer to the authorities.
One of the most common forms of food stamp fraud is to over report the number of persons in your household. An increase in the number of individuals in your home qualifies you to receive more benefits; a decrease has the opposite effect. In many cases, food stamp recipients do not report the fact that someone has moved out to the authorities. This is against the law. Indeed, you are obligated to alert snap the moment the number of dwellers in your household changes.
Receiving government assistance does not make you a bad person—even if you have been charged with food stamp fraud. If such charges have been brought against you, your first priority must be to hire a lawyer. You will need representation and legal counsel. You should get someone who knows the law to look over your case and determine whether you’ve actually committed a crime.
The evidence the authorities have against you may be flimsy or non-existent. You may feel under pressure to incriminate yourself or confess to something you did not do. Getting a lawyer on your side will help you mount the kind of defense that will ease some of that pressure.
If you actually have committed a crime and the authorities have a strong case against you, then you still need a lawyer to help get you a deal. There is still your family to think about, and you must do all that you can to get an outcome that is favorable to you.
It is best to work with a lawyer with extensive expertise and experience in food stamp fraud cases. They will have deep knowledge of how the law works in such matters. They will also know how to negotiate with the prosecutors to obtain a result that will bring you the least hardship. Perhaps the best reason to work with such an attorney is the compassion and insight they bring. Food stamp fraud lawyers will not judge you; you will not be mistreated and humiliated because of the struggles you’ve been through and he burdens you’ve had to bear. You will be respected and treated with dignity.
Such lawyers know how to bring the circumstances of your life into the case, so that the judge who presides over it will see you as fully human. Food stamp lawyers will work hard to see that you are treated fairly by the criminal justice system and that you and your family are not forced to suffer any more than is necessary.
Recipient Application Food Stamp Fraud
Food stamp fraud happens when government food stamps, a program known as snap, gets misused for personal gain on the part of a business or recipient. In this case, we will deal with recipient food stamp fraud. While snap operates as a federal program to help those in need, most of the operations happen on a state to state basis. For example, in the state of Texas, snap fraud leads to a felony, but in California, misuse of snap will be a misdemeanor.
What Happens if I’m Suspected of Food Stamp Fraud?
Normally, the social services agency will hand the situation over when someone has become a suspect in food stamp fraud. When the agency suspects legitimate fraudulent activity, the case will be sent to the District Attorney and further investigation will continue to get to the bottom of the case. Should the D.A. decline to press charges on the criminal level, social services will process the case as a civil matter. Social services will usually charge the person with Intentional Program Violation. They will schedule a hearing to verify if the IPV happened, and if they find you guilty of it, you will be disqualified from the program for a period of time. You may also have to pay back any of theoverages. While you may disqualify for the benefits, your family can continue to receive benefits. For those convicted of IPV repeatedly, it could lead to a permanent disqualification, and if enough evidence exists, the person could be convicted and charged with criminal food stamp fraud. If found guilty, they face disqualification from the program, a fine and a prison sentence. For cases of serious or extreme fraud, an individual could have to pay as much as $100,000, and they may have to serve up to 25 years in prison.
What to Do When under Suspicion?
When you come under fire for food stamp fraud, you want a licensed and experienced attorney to represent you. She will guide you through the process, and she will understand the ins and outs of the law on this topic. They can keep you from making a legal misstep that could potentially cost you your freedom or your qualification for food stamps.
How Food Stamps Work
Families that struggle to make ends meets will often look for the help of food stamps. The amount depends on how many dependents an individual has within the home, and the less income they have, the larger the food stamp allowance. However, when someone intentionally misleads the government on the size of their household and income on the application, they could be charged with food stamp fraud. The investigation will often conduct interviews with neighbors and family who talk about the size of the person’s household. They will also ask for income sources.
Legal Action Against the Recipient
Once the USDA believes food stamp fraud has occurred, they will follow through a process of several different steps. The first step involves the scheduling of a disqualification hearing. At this hearing, the agency will have to prove the individual’s intent to commit food stamp fraud. Should they succeed, the person who wrongfully received assistance will become ineligible for a period of time. In addition, they could be forced to pay back on the excess they took from their rightful entitlement. For the more serious cases, the agency will often pursue criminal charges on a misdemeanor or felony level, depending on the state and county and the severity of the crime. Nevertheless, those who commit food stamp fraud could face up to five years in prison. They could also have as many as seven years on probation, or they could face an even larger fine.
How to Stop Legal Action
For the people who’d rather skate around the hearing and the potential for criminal charges, they can elect to waive the disqualification hearing. However, in doing this, they will give up their benefits for a set period of time. At the same time, they could also have to pay back the overages they received. In these situations, you’d do better not to admit any wrongdoing because this will leave you open to criminal prosecution. Seek the expert counsel of a qualified attorney to decide on the most sound legal approach.
Non-Citizen of the United States?
Those who have not yet become a United States citizen especially have to be careful because if convicted of welfare fraud, they can be deported, and future attempts to gain entry into the United States will be met with denial. However, what kind of charges brought against you will depend on your situation. For example, if you failed to report your income, the DA, may choose to charge you with perjury for every statement signed under oath where the income wasn’t made clear. The government could also decide to charge you with falsely obtaining aid through fake statements. For the vast majority of food stamp fraud cases, the District Attorney will usually agree to a plea where the adjudication probation or jail time will be reduced in the event the money can be paid back, but this also depends on the state and count you live in.
Food stamp fraud can be even more serious when someone has frauded the government out of thousands of dolars. For example, one female employee in the Wisconsin Food Share program created and kept renewing fraudulent account. She stole more than $150,000 from the government, and she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the charges. For those who have frauded the government of this much money, they can expect stiff penalties. Sometimes the ability to pay back doesn’t work either. For example, in the case of a Florida woman who failed to inform her social worker how her husband had returned how, the court rejected her offer to repay the welfare. If you’re ever charged with food stamp fraud, having a qualified lawyer to represent your case could save you from the worst penalties in the long run.
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