The financial implications of welfare fraud can be devastating. That’s why California has established strict laws that deal with welfare fraud. These statutes intend to deter and punish any fraudulent behavior associated with California’s welfare programs.
A conviction for welfare fraud can result in spending most of your time in prison and paying hefty fines. Hiring a lawyer from the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm is the best thing to do when you’re facing welfare fraud in Riverside, CA, and its neighborhood. Contact us today to learn more about your case and how we can help you.
A Brief Outline of California’s Welfare Programs
California has welfare programs aimed at assisting unemployed and underemployed people. Some of the common types of welfare programs that you should know about include the following:
California Work Opportunities and Responsibilities to Kids(CalWORKs)
CalWORKs is a state-run program that provides temporary cash aids to families requiring assistance with their utilities, food, clothing, and medical care. This program was formally referred to as Aids to Families with Dependent Children (ADFC).
Calfresh or food stamp program is a state-run welfare program that provides monthly electronic benefits to buy food.
In-home Services Welfare Program
California has established several welfare programs that help people in different in-home services to address issues like:
Domestic violence (aimed at providing counseling services, parenting skills training, medical and public health information, and financial services)
Substance abuse (aimed at providing evaluation and treatment services)
Mental health (aimed at providing services in case management, assessment, treating, and rehabilitating people suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues)
Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN)
GAIN is a state-run welfare program that provides mandatory support to CalWORKs participants and helps them seek meaningful employment, remain employed, and advance to well-paying jobs.
General Relief or Assistance (GR or GA)
GR or GA is a welfare program that supports poverty-stricken adults who aren’t participating in other public assistance programs.
Medi-Cal is a Medicaid program in California that provides public health insurance coverage to low-income children and adults. Although Medi-Cal is a California Welfare Program, fraudulent activities associated with this program are prosecuted under different laws.
Benefits for CalWORKs and CalFresh are distributed electronically. These forms of cash aids are wired to the beneficiaries’ accounts to an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that works like a debit card. This makes it vulnerable to various forms of welfare fraud.
How California Laws Define Welfare Fraud
Many instances of welfare fraud are defined under the Welfare and Institution Code 10980. Under this statute, fraud refers to making false statements and reports when applying for a public welfare program to receive benefits to which you’re not entitled. You violate WIC 10980 by doing any of the following:
Deliberately misstating details or failing to give the right details to obtain, increase, or retain undeserved welfare benefit
Applying for welfare benefit with several names name or filing multiple applications to obtain several benefits
Purchasing, possessing, or counterfeiting food stamps or authorizations to receive food stamps
Welfare Fraud Investigation Process
Many district attorneys’ offices in California have welfare fraud investigation units dedicated to prosecuting suspects for welfare fraud. Prosecutors usually receive referrals from the public, the department of social services, and other agencies.
Once they receive these referrals, they begin the investigation process by contacting the suspect. At this point, investigators question the suspect about the welfare benefits that they are obtaining fraudulently.
Investigators can also contact the suspect’s friends, co-workers, neighbors, and relatives to obtain additional details that can be useful or refute the allegations.
The investigators will then present an investigation report to the district attorney after compiling all relevant information needed for a prosecution. If the District Attorney confirms that the information is enough to prosecute a suspect, they will file criminal charges against the suspect under the WIC 10980 or other related offenses. Otherwise, the DA might decide to return the case to the investigators, reject the case, or place the case under a welfare fraud diversion program.
Types and Examples of California Welfare Fraud
You can be involved in two forms of welfare fraud in California: Recipient and internal fraud. Here is an overview of these two forms of welfare fraud.
Recipient Welfare Fraud
A person commits a recipient welfare fraud by receiving or unlawfully attempting to receive welfare benefits illegally. There are several ways that a person can commit this form of fraud. However, the most common examples include benefiting in the following ways:
Claiming that you’re a single parent while your spouse is living with you
Failing to report your additional incomes or welfare benefits
Submitting a claim for a child who you’re not living with
Submitting a claim for ineligible or fictitious children
Collecting benefits from another state other than those that you’ve collected from California
Internal Welfare Fraud
A person commits internal welfare fraud by attempting to distribute or distributing welfare benefits unlawfully from an agency involved in handling welfare benefits. Internal welfare fraud occurs as an “inside job” when an eligible worker falsifies the application process for an ineligible relative or friend and splits the proceeds when the “deal” goes through. Workers can also create fictitious children, make false claims about an income or even fail to report facts about their friends or relatives that would disqualify them from receiving the welfare benefits legitimately.
An example of this form of welfare fraud involves an eligible worker working for the Department of Public Social Services convicted for creating a fictitious welfare case for a family member. The worker had set up payments for non-existing children, which amounted to over $700,000.
Please note, defendants convicted of internal welfare fraud can face additional charges for embezzlement. Embezzlement refers to the unlawful taking of another person’s property or money that has been trusted to you.
The Consequences of Welfare Fraud In California
The sentences that result from welfare fraud depend on the specific section of the WIC 10980 you’ve violated. Some forms of welfare fraud are prosecuted as misdemeanors, straight felonies, while others are wobblers. Prosecutors determine the type of charges they’ll impose on you based on the specifics of your criminal activity and the amount involved. Here is a breakdown of the penalties for welfare fraud.
Penalties for Providing Misleading or False Statement
Making a misleading or false statement is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months of county jail custody and a fine of up to $500.
Penalties for Filing Fraudulent Applications
Filing fraudulent applications for welfare benefits is a wobbler. Fraudulent applications include:
Filing for welfare benefits as a fictitious person
Making multiple applications
Applying for a welfare benefit with a false identification card
A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. A felony is punishable by 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Penalties for Obtaining or Retaining Welfare Benefits
Obtaining or retaining welfare benefits illegally is charged as a misdemeanor in California and the welfare benefit amounted to $950 or less. A misdemeanor carries a maximum of six months in county jail and a fine of up to $500.
Receiving more than $950 is a felony punishable by 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail, and a fine of up to $5,000.
Penalties for Using Food Stamp Authorizations
Using, transferring, or acquiring food stamps authorization is punished as a felony in California. A sentence carries 16 months, 2, or 3 years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $5,000. Counterfeiting or altering food stamps authorizations can also lead to forgery charges.
Fraud Associated with Food Stamps
Welfare fraud involving actual food stamps is a wobbler. You can be charged with a misdemeanor if you're involved in a welfare fraud valued at $950 or less. A misdemeanor carries up to six months of custody in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
You can be charged with a felony if you’re involved in a fraud valued more than $950. A sentence carries 16 months, two, or three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.
Food stamp fraud can be aggravated if a defendant carries out the crime through an electronic transfer. An aggravated food stamp fraud imposes up to 4 years of imprisonment.
Please note, every form of welfare fraud is charged as a separate crime. Committing more than one form of welfare fraud can lead to lengthy terms in county jail or prison and hefty monetary fines.
Apart from the sentences described above, you can face the following additional and consecutive penalties:
One year of imprisonment if you electronically transfer welfare benefits that exceed $50,000
Two years if you electronically transfer welfare that exceeds $150,000
Three years for transferring welfare benefits that exceed $1,000,000
Four years for transferring welfare benefit that exceeds $2,500,000
You are also at risk of other additional penalties like professional disciplinary sentences and deportation or removal from the United States if you’re an alien. A conviction can also disqualify you from future welfare benefits.
Diversion Programs for Welfare Fraud in California
California has established a welfare diversion program to reduce the consequences for misdemeanor offenders. In counties with welfare diversion programs, a person convicted of welfare programs participates in them instead of serving custody in jail.
In these programs, participants must plead guilty to the welfare fraud they are accused of and repay the welfare benefits they acquired unlawfully. After the defendant pays this amount, the judge will look into the case and dismiss it. Failure to make the reimbursements will force the court to accept your guilty plea and sentence you.
Legal Defenses for Welfare Fraud in California
Welfare fraud defendants can use several legal defense strategies to dismiss or reduce their charges. Your attorney should carefully evaluate all available defense strategies and adopt those that seem fit for your criminal charges. Here are a few strategies that your attorney can adopt.
Lack of Fraudulent Intention
Regardless of the form of fraud you’re prosecuted for, you cannot be convicted unless there’s a fraudulent intention. Therefore, if your attorney can prove that your actions were not intended to defraud, the judge will most likely view you as innocent to the charges. For instance, your attorney could argue the following to disapprove the charges made against you:
You believed that you submitted a legitimate claim for welfare benefits and any incorrect details or omissions were accidental
You didn’t realize that reporting gifts, lottery wins, or inheritance counts as a process of receiving welfare benefit
You forgot to update your status when your kids became ineligible for the welfare benefit
When a defendant is accused of welfare fraud due to having multiple duplicate files or missing documents from your case files, this doesn’t entirely mean that you are liable for the crimes you are charged with. Lack of actual proof that you were involved in any form of welfare fraud means that prosecutors cannot prove that you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In that case, the court should acquit you of the charges made against you.
Mistaken Identity or False Accusations
Mistaken identity or false accusations work for allegations that involve internal welfare fraud, although it might be applicable in recipient welfare fraud. Sometimes family members or relatives might take advantage of a defendant working in a social welfare position by submitting incorrect information and applications since you are close. Well, the assumption that the information provided is correct by a relative or friend can easily justify the loss of your job but doesn’t necessarily have to subject you to welfare fraud.
Other instances of mistaken identity that can cause welfare fraud charges are as follows:
When a live-in boyfriend adds a fictitious child to your application without your knowledge
When someone uses your Social Security number to apply for welfare fraud without your knowledge
Due to clerical errors, which are common with many governmental institutions.
All these are a variety of reasons that could lead to a false accusation against you. Regardless of the reason, a thorough investigation into the circumstances of your arrest might reveal facts that make you innocent of the charges made against you.
Agree On Restitution
Prosecutors are primarily focused on recouping money that has been stolen through welfare fraud more than prosecuting the defendants. Therefore, if you’re in a position to pay all or part of the money you’re accused of stealing, prosecutors will most likely reduce your charges. Look at this example to understand how restitution agreements work.
Jane is accused of receiving $5000 in welfare benefits after reporting that her boyfriend is unemployed. Later on, she’s charged under WIC 10980, but the District Attorney offers her a deal. The deal specifies that she can repay up to $ 3,000, have the case reduced to a misdemeanor, and refrain from seeking jail time. The judge agrees and allows her to work for a year to repay the said amount. She pays off the amount, earns the misdemeanor, and avoids spending time in jail.
Crimes Related to Welfare Fraud in California
Welfare fraud involves several other forms of allegations like perjury, forgery, and theft. Therefore, prosecutors might charge you with these crimes or in place of welfare fraud crimes. These crimes are as follows:
California Penal Code 487: Grand Theft
California Penal Code 487 defines grand theft as the unlawfully taking of another person’s entity or property valued at $950 or more. Under this statute, “property” might include personal property, money, or land.
Grand theft is a wobbler with a misdemeanor carrying one year in county jail, while a felony carries 16 months, two, or three years in county jail. A felony charge can also result in a maximum fine of $10,000.
California Penal Code 470: Forgery
California Penal Code 470 defines forgery as knowingly altering, creating, or using written documents to commit fraud. Forgery involves several criminal actions like applying for welfare benefits by using another person’s name or counterfeiting food stamps or authorizations.
Prosecutors can file forgery charges along with your welfare fraud crimes if your criminal activities fit any of the activities described above. Forgery is a wobbler. A misdemeanor carries a maximum of one year, while a felony conviction carries up to three years of imprisonment. Judges can also award misdemeanor or felony probation in place of your custody in jail or prison.
California Penal Code 118: Perjury
California Penal Code 118 defines perjury as deliberately giving false testimonies under oath. Perjury can be associated with welfare fraud if a defendant provides false names, social security numbers, or false information in a welfare benefit application.
Perjury is a felony punishable by a maximum of four years in state prison. Judges can award formal or felony probation in place of imprisonment.
California Penal Code 182: Conspiracy
California Penal Code 182 is the statute that prohibits conspiracy in California. Conspiracy refers to agreeing with another person to commit an unlawful act. In this case, you can be charged with conspiracy when you decide to obtain welfare benefits fraudulently.
Conspiracy carries similar penalties as welfare fraud. Therefore, you can face up to three years in county jail and a maximum fine of $5,000 based on the nature of your crime.
Other Aspects About California Welfare Benefits that You Should Know About
California has established several ways to ensure that its welfare programs benefit deserving people. That’s why they have established home visits to determine whether a particular person is eligible for the program.
Typically, benefiting from a welfare program starts with the application process with the state welfare programs. Applicants must fill out relevant forms, provide the proper documents, and go through an interview process. Welfare program agencies decide to conduct a home visit based on reasonable factors. For instance, investigators might schedule a home visit to confirm whether the number of dependents and income-earners are eligible.
The requirement for a home visit depends on the specific needs of the respective program. Some programs might require the caseworkers to conduct a face-to-face interview with the local social service offices or conduct a video conference. Others might decide to conduct a home visit to confirm the eligibility of their applicants.
In other cases, California’s food assistance program, CalFresh, demands their caseworkers to conduct home visits to determine whether an applicant is eligible for the welfare program.
Home Visits and the Requirement for Search Warrant
Under the U.S Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officers must seek a search warrant while conducting a criminal investigation. However, welfare caseworkers don’t have to seek a search warrant since they aren’t conducting criminal investigations.
The U.S Supreme Court ruled that home visits are administrative tools rather than compelled searches. Therefore, a caseworker can visit any home without any criminal repercussions on the homeowner.
During the visit, agency workers might interview you and discuss the program’s requirements. The scope of the interview doesn’t go beyond reassessing eligibility. The caseworker only has to gather information related to the application, such as evaluating the applicant’s assets, disability status and assessing who’s living in their household. Therefore, this limits the visit to a plain view, meaning that you shouldn’t expect them to rifle through your drawers.
Please note, applicants maintain the right to refuse a home visit or withdraw even after their consent. However, the withdrawal can result in denial of benefits. Apart from that, caseworkers must identify themselves and offer their identification upon arriving at the applicant’s home. Caseworkers should also provide interpreters if the applicant doesn’t speak English.
Finally, applicants can ask the caseworker to leave and file a complaint with the welfare benefit agency if they feel threatened, misled, or harassed. You can also bring an attorney or consult an attorney before signing any paperwork when asked to attend a hearing.
Find a Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
There are high chances of ending up in jail or paying hefty fines when charged with welfare fraud. That’s why you should seek legal help to dismiss or reduce your charges. As the state tries to prove that you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, your attorney will find mistakes or flaws that would help you achieve your goals. At the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are committed to providing the best legal help to anyone charged with welfare fraud in Riverside, CA, and its neighborhood. For more information, call us at 951-946-6366 and schedule an appointment.