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.