They say poverty is inherited just as much as wealth. The rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. It is this vicious cycle of poverty, unfairness, and disadvantage that the government is attempting to end. For that reason, many government-sponsored assistance programs have been established and developed to aid those families who are in dire need. These initiatives include health care assistance, food stamps, and unemployment compensation. This is in no way to encourage individuals to depend on the government, but to give them a chance and opportunity in life. Such an initiative is a no-brainer; it pulls out people from the struggles in life, and in return, they will give back to the society, no matter how small or revolutionary that contribution may be. Unfortunately, where opportunity commingles with living a potentially spoonfed life, you'll find scammers. In this case, welfare fraud is the term for it.
By lawful definition, welfare fraud is the act of providing inaccurate information for the purpose of obtaining government assistance that the applicant is not eligible to get. It comes in many forms, such as:
- Manipulating, changing, purchasing, selling, or counterfeiting a document to “qualify” for food stamps;
- Registering under different names to get multiple benefits;
- Impersonating another individual who is qualified for the benefits; and
- Willfully alter or understate information in the application process.
Meanwhile, the statute lists two classifications of welfare fraud: recipient welfare fraud and internal welfare fraud. As the name suggests, the former is performed by the applicant while the latter is performed by an individual working as a state welfare agency employee, which is more like an inside job. Government workers who sabotage the welfare aid program for their own selfish gain are not only guilty under WIC 10980, but also under Penal Code PC 503, which makes it unlawful for any individual to steal any valued resources that were under their responsibility to keep and secure.
Investigation of Welfare Fraud
California welfare fraud inspectors attribute most of their work through the help of concerned citizens. They receive their reports through the designated trunklines and webpages, and with the information provided to them, the prosecutors will begin a thorough and in-depth investigation of suspected scammers. They will interview them about the benefits they obtained and the information they provided upon registration. Prosecutors will also ask the potential scammer's friends, relatives, colleagues, or neighbors if they find the need to. If the details provided in the individual's application does not match with the details that were said in the interview, or if the investigators find other probable cause, criminal prosecution will likely follow.
Penalties for Welfare Fraud
The consequences that a person will face under WIC 10980 will vary based on the underlying circumstances. Either way, such a crime can either result in a misdemeanor or felony lawsuit, with which the law sets specific standards to classify an offense.
It is a misdemeanor if the person:
- Obtained a sum of less than $950 fraudulently from the welfare programs of the government
- Bartered, bought, or misused food stamps which amount to less than $950
In this case, the individual will be penalized by paying a fine of $1,000 at most and/or serve up to a year in county jail.
On the other hand, it is a felony if the person:
- Obtained a sum of not less than $950 fraudulently from the welfare programs of the government
- Sold, purchased, or misused food stamps which amount to not less than $950
In this case, the individual will be penalized by paying a fine of $5,000 at most and/or serve either 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail.
Legal Defenses for Welfare Fraud
Welfare fraud is a serious offense that could lead to severe consequences. If you or anyone you know is facing a welfare fraud charge, you have every right to appeal and present your case before the judge. However, hiring a defense lawyer will increase your chances of winning the case as they have studied the law. Furthermore, they will also discuss the following defenses that you can use in court:
- The defendant did not deliberately provide false information for fraudulent intent; rather, it was just an honest mistake or lack of knowledge;
- The evidences presented are inadequate;
- The defendant was falsely accused based on unfounded assumptions.
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