The State of California has established various welfare programs to help citizens who are in need. Such programs are meant to benefit people who require special assistance such as health care, housing, food, and cash. There are always a few people who might decide to take advantage of these programs and try to get all the benefits that the programs have in place. Such considerations can lead to severe punishment per California law. That is why it is crucial to hire an attorney to help you with these cases. The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm is the best option when it comes to fraud cases.

Types of Welfare Program in California

There are different types of welfare programs in California. These programs are run by the state or county agencies, whereas others run as independent programs. The largest programs that run in California include:

Medi-Cal

The California Medical Assistance Program is a medical aid program that serves low-income families, people with disabilities, children in foster care, childless adults, and pregnant women. The program targets California citizens who have an income below 138% of the federal poverty level. The benefits that come along with this program include maternity and newborn care, mental health, dental care, vision care, emergency care, doctor’s office visits, and long-term doctor’s visit.

CalWORKS

The California Work Opportunities and Responsibilities to Kids is a program that gives services and cash aids to eligible needy families within California. This program works hand in hand with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to implement its services.

CalFresh

This program implements the federal Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which offers assistance in purchasing food needed for needy families in California. The program was formerly referred to as the Food Stamp Program.

State Supplementary Program

This program is also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, CalFresh). It is a cash-out program that works as a supplement to the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and offers state-funded supplemental food benefits in place of the SNAP benefits.

Medi-Cal Access Program

This program was formerly known as the Access for Infant and Mother Program. It provides low-cost health access and coverage to middle-income pregnant women without health insurance and is not eligible for Medi-Cal.

There are other welfare programs operated by the state or county. These programs include:

  • General assistance
  • Public housing
  • County medical service program
  • Workforce development
  • The statewide automated welfare system

Please note, the above-stated programs are meant for specific people who are below the poverty level established by the state. The benefits might vary from county to county, depending on the living conditions in the respective places.

Legal Explanation of Welfare Fraud in California

Under Code Section 10980 California Welfare and Institution Code, it is unlawful to obtain welfare benefits from the government by submitting false information intentionally or withholding any relevant information. Under this statute, common welfare frauds that are committed by people include:

  • Misstating information deliberately to receive benefits
  • Failing to provide information to receive benefits
  • Using more than one name when applying for any benefits
  • Filing numerous applications to receive multiple benefits
  • Purchasing, using, transferring, or possessing counterfeit food stamps

Welfare fraud can be classified into two main types. This includes recipient welfare fraud and internal fraud.

Recipient Fraud

This kind of fraud involves the attempt to receive, retain, secure, or increase benefits by submitting wrong, misleading, and incompetent information. Some of the recipient fraud include:

  • Failing to report additional benefits or income
  • Claiming to have an ineligible or fictitious child
  • Asserting that you are a single mom or dad, whereas you live with your spouse at the same residence
  • Collecting benefits from two states or counties at the same time

Internal Fraud

Internal fraud occurs when government personnel or agencies receive benefits from a welfare program to benefit themselves, their relatives, or friends. In most cases, workers usually falsify their information by providing false claims about their income, creating fictitious children, and anything else that would benefit them.

How Investigation is Carried Out in a Welfare Fraud

Different sources can report welfare fraud cases to prosecute agencies. In a place like Los Angeles, the district attorney has a team of welfare investigators to prosecute the perpetrator of this kind of offense. Apart from that, prosecutors rely on the following to get relevant information:

  • The public through websites and hotlines provided by their office
  • The Department of Social Service which oversees the disbursement of the welfare programs’ benefit
  • Tips supplied by public reporting services in the state
  • Any other agency that is suspicious of welfare fraud

The investigating officer usually begins the investigation by contacting the person named as the recipient of the benefits. From that point, they can get information about the kind of information that they provided to get the benefits. The investigators usually contact people who are close to the suspect to collect the information they need. This includes neighbors, friends, and family members.

Since the investigators usually visit their suspects unannounced, some revelations come to light such as:

  • Chances of elder abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Child abuse
  • Evidence related to drug crimes

In that case, you might find the investigator working with other agencies like:

  • Family support services
  • Child welfare services
  • Adult protective services
  • Other agencies related to the circumstances at hand.

Once the investigator reveals the possibility of welfare fraud, he or she will present the information to the deputy district attorney, who will decide whether the information is ideal enough to proceed into filing a lawsuit. The district attorney can decide on the following:

  • Proceed into filing a criminal case under the WIC section 10980 or other related offense
  • Return the information to the investigator and request for more incriminating information
  • Do away with the case

Penalties for Welfare Fraud in California

Different penalties apply to a welfare fraud case. This depends on the section that you have violated under Penal Code 10980. You might end up getting a straight misdemeanor or felony, meaning that most cases are wobbler. The kind of penalties that apply depend on:

  • Whether you have any criminal history
  • The circumstances surrounding your case

In that case, there are a couple of offenses that apply under this statute. These offenses are as follows:

Filing False Information

Filing fraudulent details with a welfare program is considered as a wobbler offense. This means that you have done the following:

  • Made multiple applications as the same person
  • Created an application as a fictitious person
  • Created a false identity to benefit from a welfare program

Since the offense is a wobbler, a misdemeanor attracts the following punishment.

  • Imprisonment for a maximum of one year
  • Fines that can amount up to $1,000
  • Both imprisonment and fines

If the prosecutor charges you with a felony offense, the possible punishment that applies include:

  • 16 months, two years or three years of imprisonment in a county jail
  • Fines that can amount up to $5,000
  • Both imprisonment and fines

Obtaining or Retaining Welfare Benefits

Retaining or receiving welfare benefits is considered a misdemeanor in California. This means that you kept or obtained welfare benefits fraudulently, and the benefits totaled to $950.

If the prosecutor charges you with a misdemeanor, the kind of penalties that apply are:

  • Six months of imprisonment in a county jail
  • Fines that can reach up to $500

If the benefit in question is more than $950, you will face a felony charge. The kind of penalties that apply in a felony include:

  • imprisonment in a county jail for 16 months, two years or three years
  • Fines that can amount to $5,000

Offenses Related to Food Stamps

Engaging in an unauthorized food stamp program is considered a felony in California. Such an offense is punishable by:

  • 16 months, one year, or two years of imprisonment in a county jail
  • Fines that can total up to $5,000

Such a case can be considered as a wobbler if you were involved in the use, transfer, sale, purchase, and possession of food stamps or electronically transferred the benefits and the food stamp authorization unlawfully. Therefore, if the value of the food stamp is $950 or below, the crime is considered a misdemeanor. It carries penalties such as:

  • County jail imprisonment for six months
  • Fines that can amount to $500
  • Both imprisonment and fines

If the food stamps are more than $950, the offense becomes a felony. Such a crime is punishable by:

  • Imprisonment for sixteen months, one year or two years
  • Fines that can amount to $5,000
  • Both incarnation and fines

Transferring Benefits Electronically

Transferring welfare benefits can attract additional imprisonment. You will be facing an additional and consecutive sentence on top of the sentence. The additional and consecutive penalties are as follows:

  • One year in prison if the benefit in question exceeds $50,000
  • Two years of imprisonment if the perpetrator transferred a total of $150,000
  • Imprisonment for three years if one transferred an excess of $1M of benefit
  • Incarnation for four years if the amount in question is over $2.5M

There are a couple of additional penalties that might apply to this kind of offense. Such penalties include:

  • Disqualification from receiving any welfare benefit in future
  • Deportation from the United States if you are a legal immigrant
  • Professional discipline if you are a state license holder. This applies in cases related to moral turpitude, in which welfare fraud is a typical example of one

Diversion Programs for Welfare Fraud Offenders

Since California has severe welfare problems, there are diversion programs that have been established to minimize the criminal consequences that come along. In that case, there are fraud diversion programs created by some counties to serve this purpose. The offender is expected to participate in this program rather than going to prison.

These programs require the offenders to plead guilty and repay all the benefits that he or she has acquired unlawfully. Once you have paid the benefits in full, the court will dismiss the charges. If you fail to pay up the amount, the court will use your guilty plea and impose a sentence as provided by the law.

Legal Defense for Welfare Fraud

If you decide to hire a professional attorney, one must have relevant legal defenses in place to handle the case. There are quite a couple of legal defense strategies that can apply in a welfare fraud case. Some of these legal defenses are:

Claim that You Had No Fraudulent Intentions

Despite your accusations, you cannot be convicted unless they prove that you had fraudulent intentions. Therefore, if the prosecutor is unable to verify this fact, then the judge will consider you as innocent from the accusation. Your attorney can decide to use the following when proving that you had no fraudulent intentions:

  • Believe that you had submitted a legitimate claim for a welfare benefit
  • Claim that you did not realize about any lottery winnings, inheritance, or gifts that make you ineligible for the benefits
  • Claim that you forgot to update information about your children once they became ineligible for any welfare benefits

Insufficient Evidence

In most cases, internal welfare frauds are reported as a result of suspicion from employers. Employers might come into the conclusion of welfare fraud as a result of the following:

  • Noticing that you had several duplicate files
  • Noticing that you had missing case files
  • The suspicion that you had contacted some applicants

Although such suspicion seems incriminating, they are not conclusive enough to prosecute someone with welfare fraud. The evidence might strongly suggest that you had embezzling funds, but the prosecutor should prove beyond doubt that you are guilty of the crime. Otherwise, the prosecutor does not stand to charge you with such charges.

False Accusation

In some cases, another party might accuse you of fraud as a way to avoid any incriminating evidence against his or her fraudulent actions. Also, you can be mistakenly pursued as the recipient of fraud, whereas there is someone else who's trying to incriminate you.

In such a case, your attorney should carefully trace back the alleged benefits that you received and confirm whether they are true or are just a false accusation made on you. If the attorney can manage to do so, then you have a strong defense on your hand.

Fault in The Investigation

An investigation is usually carried out if there is any suspicion of welfare fraud. In such a case, the investigator is expected to follow a particular procedure. If the investigator does not comply with some requirements, there are possibilities of fault in the information collected. As a result, your attorney can use the shortcomings and claim fault in the report provided.

Duress

If you reasonably believe that you conducted a welfare fraud since you thought your life was in danger, the court might disregard your case. This is considered as duress. However, you must show credible information that shows that your life was in danger, to make this legal defense valid enough.

Entrapment

This legal defense is quite close to duress. However, it applies in a situation where one commits an alleged offense as a result of harassment, coercion, or threat from the police agency. For instance, if the investigator threatened you during the investigation and made you admit guilt to the case at hand, then you will have a credible and relevant defense strategy at hand.

Identity Theft

Identity thefts are common in California. Such situations can easily be used against you during a welfare fraud. Another person might decide to use your information in filing for benefits from a government agency or institution. In such a case, you can prove that you were not involved in the fraud by identifying information that does not match with yours.

Genuinely Forgot to Include Some Information on Your Application

At times, a government institution or agency might mistake your applications to be fraudulent if you fail to provide all the required information. Such mistakes are common but can go to the extent of incriminating you. You should prove to the court that you had no intention to hold some of your information to get any welfare and have your case dismissed.

Once you meet with your attorney, he or she will review your case and determine which defense is ideal enough. It is recommendable to remain honest with every detail about your case if you want your defense to be successful. In such a consideration, your attorney will determine whether your information is relevant or not. 

Offenses Related to Welfare Fraud in California

Since welfare fraud involves perjury, forgery, and theft allegations, there are a couple of offenses that are related to welfare fraud and can be charged in lieu of California Penal Code 10980. These similar crimes are as follows:

California Grand Theft – Penal Code 487

Under Penal Code 487, it is illegal to take another person’s property, which has a market value of above $950. The property might include personal property, land, labor, and money.

If you fraudulently acquire benefits such as unemployment benefits, which are more than $950, you can be persecuted under this penal code. The kind of penalties that apply are:

  • Imprisonment for 16 months, two or three years in a county jail
  • Fines that can amount up to $10,000

California Forgery Law – Penal Code 470

Under Penal Code 470, it is unlawful to alter, create, or use written documents intending to establish fraud. Some of the examples that follow under this penal code include:

  • Applying for a benefit as someone else to gain an advantage of welfare benefit
  • Using counterfeit food stamps or counterfeiting the food stamps

The prosecutor might decide to charge you with a forgery. Forgery is considered a wobbler in California. As a misdemeanor, the kind of punishment that applies include:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • County jail custody for a maximum of a year
  • A fine that amounts to $1,000

If the prosecutor charges you with a felony, the kind of penalties that follow are:

  • Felony or formal probation
  • County jail imprisonment for a maximum of three years
  • A fine that amounts to $10,000

Please note, a forgery offense is charged a misdemeanor if the document in question is a check or money order and the money in question is worth $950 or less.

California Perjury Law – Penal Code 118

Under Penal Code 118, it is unlawful to give false information deliberately while under oath to maintain truth. Therefore, if you submit your information as a false name, with a fake social security number with falsifying information, the prosecutor can charge you with felony charges. The kind of penalties that apply are:

  • Imprisonment for two, three or four years
  • Fines that amount to a maximum of $10,000

California laws usually consider perjury as a case of moral turpitude and can cause serious immigration consequences. This means that you can be deported or considered inadmissible when seeking United States citizenship.

California Conspiracy Law – Penal Code 182

Under Penal Code 182, it is unlawful to conspire with another person to commit a crime. Conspiracy means that you agreed with another person to commit an unlawful act. If you obtain welfare benefits fraudulently, you will face the same penalties that apply to felony welfare fraud.

A conspiracy charge is usually in connection with internal welfare fraud, where an employee arranges for unlawful benefits to be distributed to friends or family.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Law Firm Near Me

Welfare fraud charges can lead to severe consequences. These convictions do not only leave you behind bars but can lead to severe fines, spoil your reputation, and bar you from getting any welfare benefits in the future. That’s why it is recommended to seek a criminal defense attorney to help you with a welfare fraud case. You need an attorney who has the experience and a good reputation with fraud cases. We at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm have the resources and expertise needed for welfare cases. For those residing in and about Los Angeles, CA, contact us today at 310-935-1675 and let our attorneys handle your case.