You are deemed to have violated California WIC 10980 when you use fraudulent methods to obtain welfare benefits you do not qualify for from the federal or state government. The consequences of welfare fraud are severe and long-lasting. Therefore when you face welfare fraud charges in Los Angeles, CA, it is in your best interests to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have a proven track record representing clients facing welfare fraud charges. Our deep knowledge of the legal system and familiarity with the local courts helps our attorneys fight for your rights in the courtroom.
Understanding California WIC 10980
The statute classifies welfare into two main categories, internal and recipient fraud. Recipient welfare fraud occurs when you knowingly or willfully deceive, make false statements, or present inaccurate details to obtain welfare aid, food stamps, and other state or federal government benefits.
Alternatively, internal welfare fraud occurs if a public officer knows a person does not qualify for government benefits but disburses or assigns the aid to the wrong recipient. The charges for welfare fraud are either a felony or misdemeanor. The penalties vary based on your past criminal records and any other relevant evidence the prosecution team presents.
Welfare involves government-funded plans developed to support the underemployed, the poor, and other struggling people. Welfare benefits offer many benefits to the beneficiaries. The following are common welfare benefit plans in California:
CalWORKs, the program is known as California work responsibilities and opportunities to kids. In the past, the program was known as ADFC and provided families with food, shelter, medical care, and clothing.
The Medi-Cal program provides medical coverage for low-income children and adults. Although the law considers the program a welfare benefit, the court convicts the case differently from other welfare fraud cases.
Greater Avenues for Independence(GAIN) program provides compulsory aid to CalWORKs recipients to discover meaningful employment, proceed with their careers and stay employed.
General Relief or General Assistance (GR/GA), the program assists grown-ups not entitled to receive public aid.
Note checks and food stamps are becoming outdated daily because platforms like CalFRESH and CalWORKs move money electronically. A recipient of these funds is issued with an EBT card which they use like a debit card. According to the law, when an applicant of the above programs provides false information intending to acquire welfare aid, the applicant commits welfare fraud.
Every crime is usually unique. Therefore when you face a charge of committing welfare fraud in California, you must speak with your attorney as soon as possible. The attorney will help you know the available options and your legal rights. Many cases of welfare fraud occur when you:
- Knowingly fail to retain, acquire or increase unwanted welfare benefits.
- Sell, hand over, obtain, control, alter or forge to obtain food stamps.
- Fill out multiple application forms to receive more than the required welfare benefits.
Types of Welfare Fraud in California
Generally, many welfare fraud crimes in California fall under either internal fraud or recipient fraud. Recipient welfare fraud involves an attempt by a welfare beneficiary to retain, increase, or secure benefits through misleading, incomplete information or submitting false information. Below are examples of recipient fraud:
- Receiving benefits from different states at the same time
- Claiming to be a single dad or mom when you and the other partner live together
- When you fail to report income, that may affect your benefits
Internal fraud is the type of fraud committed by government agencies employees. The fraud involves the employee illegitimately distributing the welfare benefits to family members, friends, or himself. When convicted of internal welfare fraud, the court may also charge you with embezzlement of public funds.
Potential Penalties for Welfare Fraud in California
Under California laws, you may face a misdemeanor or a felony charge for committing welfare fraud. The penalties vary according to the type of welfare fraud you are charged with. When you make misleading or fake information intending to obtain welfare benefits, the law considers the crime a misdemeanor. So, you remain behind bars for six months.
Filling for a fictitious person, filling out a complete fraud application, or filling under multiple names, can lead to felony or misdemeanor charges. A misdemeanor charge attracts a jail term of 12 months. Alternatively, a felony charge attracts a jail term of 16 months or 36 months.
Fraudulently retaining or obtaining welfare benefits is a misdemeanor offense when the value of the benefit involved is less than $950. When the value of the benefit is above $950, you face a felony charge. After facing a misdemeanor charge, you will serve in jail for six months. A felony charge will carry a jail term between 16 and 36 months.
For misusing, buying, or selling food stumps, you face a misdemeanor charge when the value of the amount in question is below $950. You face a felony charge when the value of the involved amount exceeds $950. The crime carries similar charges as fraudulent obtaining of welfare benefits.
When welfare fraud involves electronically transferred benefits, you face additional 12 months in jail when the value of the benefits exceeds $50,000. You also face a 24 months jail term when the value of the benefits exceeds $150,000. If the value of the benefits exceeds one million dollars, you face additional three years in jail. Lastly, when the value of the benefits exceeds 2.5 million dollars, you face a jail term of at least four years.
Apart from facing the above penalties, you risk losing your professional license and current job. The court will also disqualify you from receiving future welfare benefits. A non-American citizen will face deportation. Therefore, when you face welfare fraud charges, you seek legal help from your criminal defense attorney to beat the charges.
Investigating Welfare Fraud
When the prosecuting agencies receive information about welfare fraud in California, they begin their investigations immediately. The DA offices select welfare fraud units to conduct their investigations. Several sources of information about welfare fraud include:
- Tips and references from state or local agencies responsible for distributing welfare benefits.
- Tips and referrals received from the public through sites and hotlines.
- Any other agency which suspects the commission of welfare fraud.
The investigation process starts with the investigating agency following the above referrals and tips. The agency starts by reaching the recipient or the beneficiary of the public funds. They inquire about what the beneficiaries are receiving and the information they have availed of about the benefits.
The investigating officers may talk to your neighbors, friends, colleagues, and relatives to gather additional information to enable the prosecution of the crime. The investigators visit your family members or neighbors unannounced to interview the witnesses and collect information like:
- Evidence of drug offenses.
- Cases of abuse.
- Domestic violence cases.
- Incident where a child has suffered neglect or abuse.
Government agencies like adult protective, child welfare, family, and other agencies concerned with these cases will be involved in this case. When all necessary evidence concerning the fraud is collected, the DA files a lawsuit against the perpetrators.
Restitution Instead of the Criminal Charges
Depending on the nature of the case, you might pay the unlawfully acquired funds instead of facing criminal charges. Several counties allow diversion programs. Under the diversion program, if you have not deprived the county of money, you might be ordered to repay the alleged benefits in question in exchange for charge acquittal.
Under the diversion program, you plead guilty to the welfare benefit charge. After completing the reimbursement of the funds acquired by fraudulent methods, the criminal court dismisses your charges. However, when you fail to d reimburse the alleged funds, the criminal court judge will impose severe penalties.
You want to note when the court requires you to reinstitute the funds instead of facing criminal charges. Remember, when the judge learns you reimbursed the funds obtained through fraud, the judge will be lenient in your conviction. Therefore, the criminal court judge may impose less severe penalties.
Legal Defenses for Welfare Fraud
Although welfare fraud crimes carry severe penalties, including an extensive jail term, you still can fight the charges. Your attorney may use various legal defense strategies when defending you in court. The elements of the crime are also the pillars on which a strong defense will rest.
Disapproving one of the elements goes hand in hand with winning the argument that welfare fraud did not occur. Here, you can be proven innocent of the charges against you. The following are the common defenses you may apply:
Lack of Intent to Commit Fraud
For you to be convicted of fraud crimes, the prosecutor wants to prove your intent. When you are genuinely availing of accurate information, the attorney may find you guilty as you did not have a fraudulent purpose. Again, you may argue you did not notice any lottery winnings, gifts, or inheritance that would make you ineligible for the benefit. You will not face conviction for the crime as the judge will consider your innocence.
Employers might suspect you of welfare fraud when they notice you have several duplicate files. Again, the employers may notice you have missing case files or you have contacted several applicants. The suspicions are not enough to prosecute you with welfare fraud. The prosecutor's evidence may suggest you were embezzling funds, but the prosecutor wants to prove that you committed the crime. If the prosecutor lacks sufficient evidence, you cannot face conviction for the charges.
Coercion is when you think someone will harm you or place you in danger unless you commit the crime. If you seriously believed you were at risk of harm, coercion could be an effective defense if you did not commit welfare fraud. The acting of duress transfers all the blame to those pushing you, not yourself.
The law ensures the criminal receives punishment. However, you want to establish that a reasonable person in your position would have committed the crime. Again, you want to prove you had no alternative to committing the crime. To make the defense valid enough, you want evidence that your life was in danger. The court may easily dismiss your charges.
Sometimes you may face false accusations for a crime you have not committed. The victim may be doing so to cover their fraudulent actions. At other times, you may be persuaded to receive fraud when someone tries to incriminate you. Your defense attorney wants to trace your alleged benefits and confirm whether they are true or false accusations.
Again, when close relatives know you work in a department that verifies welfare claims, they may issue false information to save you. When you accept their request thinking they have presented accurate information, you may innocently face accusations of the crime. In this case, you behaved negligently, which does not warrant the charges.
Incapacitation may be mental or physical. If you can prove you were intoxicated at the time of the crime, you have a valid defense. For example, when you were under the influence of medication which affects your judgment to the extent of committing welfare fraud. The defense worked when you were not using intoxicants voluntarily.
Other Crimes Charged Alongside Welfare Fraud
Apart from facing charges for welfare fraud, the criminal court judge may charge you alongside other crimes. Although the crimes relate to welfare fraud, they carry different penalties. The following are the common crimes charged alongside welfare fraud in California:
Grand Theft PC 487
In California, grand theft involves the unlawful taking of another person's property worth $950 and above. Grand theft is charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony based on the facts surrounding the case and the defendant's past criminal record. The following are the main types of grand theft in California:
- Grand theft by trick.
The Legal Penalties for Grand Theft
The crime carries either felony or misdemeanor charges in many cases. When charged as a misdemeanor, you serve in jail for one year. Alternatively, when accused of a felony charge, you face a jail term between 16 months and three years. You might also face sentence enhancement when the value of the money in question is exceptionally high. The sentence enhancement runs as follows:
- You face an additional year in jail when the property is worth over $65,000.
- You face an additional 24 months jail term when the property's value exceeds $200,000.
- You face an additional 36 months jail term when the property's value exceeds $1.3 million.
- You face an additional four years jail term when the property's value exceeds $3.2.
The Legal Defenses for Grand Theft
You can fight the grand theft charge with the help of a competent criminal defense attorney. The attorney will help investigate and analyze your case to build a strong defense. Below are possible reasons your attorney can use to fight the grand theft charges:
Lack of Intent
Before facing a conviction for grand theft, the prosecution wants to prove the element of intent. The court may drop the charges when the prosecutor fails to do so. Also, if you committed fraud because of a mistake, you cannot face conviction for the crime.
You might face false accusations of grand theft. Perhaps, the true embezzler or thief has framed you in an attempt to revenge. Again, you might be a victim of mistaken identity. The court will drop your charges when you prove to be subject to false accusations.
Claim of Rights
It might be possible the belongings in question are yours. Therefore, if you believe the property belonged to you, this defense is your best option. The defense will not work if you have hidden the property in question.
PC 470 Forgery
California law defines forgery as using, altering, or making a false document to defraud. Fraud involves a scheme to deceive other people for financial forgery.
Elements of The Crime
The prosecution wants to prove the following elements for you to face conviction for forgery:
- You committed forgery by creating a false document or altering an existing document.
- You wrote false information in the document.
- You committed forgery purposely to commit fraud.
Penalties For Violating Forgery Laws
PC 470 can either be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case. The charge depends on the cost of the forged document or property. You face charges for a felony when the value of money or property is more than $950. When charged as a misdemeanor, you serve in jail for one year and have misdemeanor probation.
When charged with a felony, you serve in county jail for three years and felony probation. Penalties for forgery include the payment of restitution fees to the victim. The restitution makes up for the lost property or money.
The Legal Defenses for Forgery
Even though facing an accusation of forgery is a severe charge, defenses are available. You want to work with an experienced and competent criminal lawyer. The possible defenses to forgery include:
No Intent to Defraud
Before you face conviction for forgery, the prosecution wants to prove your intent to defraud. The prosecutor could not prove that you committed forgery if you did not intend to defraud.
The Falsity of Your Conduct
You might face accusations of forgery if you had permission to create the document in question. You can create a document if you have power of attorney over someone. Therefore you cannot face conviction for forgery. Even when you did not have permission, the relationship shows that you were reasonably allowed to create the document.
Conspiracy – California PC 182
Criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more parties to commit a criminal offense. Before you face conviction for the crime, the prosecutor must demonstrate the following:
- You knowingly agreed to assist or participate in the planned crime.
- One of the parties in the plan took action to carry out the crime.
The Legal Penalties for Conspiracy in California
The crime of conspiracy carries a felony or misdemeanor charge based on the crime you planned to perform. The penalties for conspiracy are usually the same as the crime you intend to commit. For example, when you face conviction of conspiracy to commit arson, you face similar charges someone convicted of arson could face.
When you face conviction for conspiracy to perform multiple crimes, the maximum sentence will match the most severe offense. Speak with your attorney immediately after your arrest to help you find the best available option.
The Legal Strategies to Fight Conspiracy Charge
The prosecution team must demonstrate the main parts of the conspiracy, including the plan to commit the crime and the overt act to further the plan. The following are the common legal defenses your criminal defense attorney can employ to fight the conspiracy charge:
Lack of Agreement
You might argue you were not involved in planning the alleged crime. For example, you are guilty of conspiracy if you were in your room when the plans to commit the crime were intended. But, if you help carry out the plans, you will face conviction for conspiracy.
You Withdrew From the Agreement
You are guilty of conspiracy if you agree to withdraw from the crime before the act occurred. It would be best to communicate your withdrawal before the crime occurs. If this is your case, the court may consider dropping your charges.
No Overt Act
If you plan to commit an offense with another person but fail to take steps toward committing the crime, you are not guilty. Under the elements of the crime, you must execute an overt act for the crime of conspiracy to occur. Planning to commit a crime alone cannot result in charges of conspiracy.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
When you face accusations of welfare fraud, you want to seek legal help from a defense attorney. The attorney will investigate your case and help you build a solid defense to fight the charges. At the Law Offices of George L. Fernandez, we have experience handling welfare fraud crimes to help navigate the justice system.
We develop a solid defense to convince the court to acquit you or lower your charges. Therefore, do not hesitate to contact our attorneys if you want to fight your welfare fraud charges in Los Angeles, CA. Contact us at 562-495-7900 and we will help you navigate the legal process.