Every year, the United States federal government amasses funds from the taxes paid by citizens. The funds obtained are put in to use for various purposes, one of them being for the provision of welfare benefits. The funds allocated to welfare are supposed to cater to the less privileged citizens in every state, who may require financial support to stay afloat. The initiative is, therefore, a significant part of the government’s play in taking care of its citizens. Some of the benefits provided by the welfare funds include proper healthcare, housing, food, and money in the form of cash.
The requirements would thus explain why the law has made express provisions that prohibit the illegal obtaining of the welfare benefit funds. The efforts to prevent fraud are meant to deter people who are likely to take advantage of the provisions at the expense of those who genuinely require help. There are various penalties in place for anyone who is found guilty of embezzlement of welfare funds, primarily through fraudulent means.
Despite all these explicit provisions, the determination of the crime is not always straightforward, and you may find yourself unfairly accused of welfare fraud. At the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer offices, we are determined to ensure that the due process of law is followed as your case is handled, in addition to providing you with professional legal advice and representation in a welfare fraud case.
Elements of Welfare Fraud
For one to determine the elements involved in welfare fraud as a crime, it is crucial to define it. Welfare fraud is the acquiring of government welfare benefits using deceptive means like impersonation-translating into the scam. There are many different ways in which the crime is committed, all of which bring out the element of deception or impersonation, whereby the aspect of fraud comes in.
For the prosecution to prove that an accused indeed committed a crime, he/she must show the actual act or omission as well as the mental intent carried by the defendant. The element of welfare fraud, hence, entails the commission of specific actions that allude to the intention to defraud.
The acts or omissions that may lead to an accusation of welfare fraud are:
Using False Identification to Get Aid
If you are found guilty of using a false identity to get financial welfare aid, you are likely to be convicted of the crime. The nature of this means of fraud entails several illegal actions that an accused person may have involved himself or herself in. The series of unlawful activities include illegally obtaining false identification papers. Additionally, bribing officials to obtain a fake identification card is a common means of acting illegally. Moreover, using coercive means to receive information from innocent persons amounts to and illegally. Lastly, creating an entirely different persona, especially in online applications by the use of false information, amounts to welfare fraud. Some extreme cases have recorded accused persons that had used the data of deceased persons to apply for welfare funds.
Collection of Welfare Benefits From Different States
This mode of executing fraud has a direct link to the use of false identification mentioned above. In this case, the suspect may have multiple accounts under different names, all of which are registered in the government records and are eligible to receive the funds. It is a very prevalent form of the crime of welfare fraud because most of the people behind such operations go out of their way to ensure that none of the accounts are directly linked to them. In other cases, the mastermind might have different people working under him or her, to help with the validation of the multiple accounts created.
In the epoch of technology, many channels of carrying out operations have evolved to fit the versatility that comes with all these new technological developments. One such example is the simplification of application processes, whereby you can now access these services online. However, despite these significant developments, scammers have also found a new playing ground. Welfare fraud committed by scamming is one of the most common means used by the defrauders. It mostly involves an accused person posing as a government official who is seeking your personal information to complete your government identification profile. This tactic often targets people who are not well versed with online safety and stipulated guidelines that prevent you from providing personal information to strangers. The biggest target, therefore, is on elderly persons, as well as persons who have not secured their social security numbers.
Lying About Having Children
In the state of California, the government has stipulated provisions for people in need, who also have dependants, in this case, children. The Medi-Cal benefit is a medical coverage fund that is meant for citizens with low income in California. If the welfare agencies were to consider who gets the benefit between a single adult with no children and another who is a parent, it is highly likely that the parent will receive the welfare benefit. In light of this, many citizens have found themselves guilty of the charges of welfare fraud by making false statements of having children. Most of them do this to get more significant sums of the allocated cash, as well as extra benefits that are meant to take care of the children. Thus, it becomes very enticing for people involved in fraud to lie to welfare agents about having children.
In addition, some of the accused persons could face charges by making false claims of single parenthood. While in this case, a defendant may be truthful in declaring that he/she has children, he/she may go a step further to make a false single parent claim. In light of the added benefits of parents in such situations, the accused person might be tempted to defraud the government by such means. Some reported cases have even shown spouses who cooperate and agree to create conditions whereby it may seem that they are not together. Their goal is to deceive welfare agents who may be sent to inspect the real situation on the ground, before accepting such a claim. Despite efforts put by such agents, the defendants are often able to get away with their false claims and obtain benefits unlawfully.
Failure to Report New Found Source of Income
The crime, in this case, is committed by withholding information on finding a source of employment. The welfare fund is essentially supposed to support citizens with no means of survival at the bare minimum. In the state of California, the government has provided the General Assistance Fund that helps adults in need who have no other means of survival. It, therefore, becomes fraudulent when you continue to benefit from such a scheme while you can support yourself.
Embezzlement of Funds by Welfare Employees
Unfortunately, not every government employee is accountable for their actions, and some are likely to involve themselves in corruption cases. They are often in collaboration with other members of the public who may not have exclusive access to the government records like they do. Consequently, they may be used to draw funds meant for welfare and transfer them to their accomplices. The employees could also be guilty of erasing legitimate records and replacing them with false ones that are then used by scammers and other persons involved in the welfare fraud.
After establishing the element of commission or the actus reus, the prosecution needs to determine whether the intent was present at the time of committing the act. Typically, the purpose of committing the crime will be derived from the circumstances and actions surrounding the time in which works of fraud occurred. In the case of welfare fraud, as earlier mentioned, the intention is to obtain the welfare benefits using fraudulent means. A defendant may have therefore intended to use their legitimate identity to access the welfare. The motive of the crime is also an essential element to factor in, as it sheds more light on the reason behind why the accused acted in a particular way.
California Law on Welfare
Several codified laws make provisions on the welfare funds, who it is targeted to, and who is in charge of handling these funds and access to benefits. The primary law provision relevant to welfare is the California Welfare and Institutions Code. By making these provisions, the law makes access to aid only exclusive to the mentioned groups of people. Trying to access benefits using alternative means that are unrecognized by law will consequently be acting unlawfully.
The divisions in this code are well defined and are distinct. Division 1 handles the administration of welfare and benefits to the citizens. The provisions are enshrined in sections 148-153. The code makes the rules as to what institutions or bodies are empowered to divide and distribute welfare benefits. Moreover, these sections provide regulations and requirements to be met by people working under such institutions.
The critical regulations to emphasize, include those that require any person or organization that is qualified to request welfare donations should maintain a different bank account from their usual. The requirement targets the persons in need of these benefits to ensure their legitimacy. Opening a separate bank account will enable the government to track the flow of funds, for example, on top of providing legitimacy. The aspect of legitimacy finds its relevance in that, for one to properly open a bank account, certain information is required. If the information provided does not match what is recorded in the application papers, it is easy to detect and thus pick out persons who intend to defraud.
In addition to the requirement of a separate bank account, a solicitor of welfare benefits also needs to keep records and books of all transactions and applications filed. They may be required at any time by the body in charge of welfare benefits issuance as a routine check to keep tabs on their benefactors.
On top of that, applicants of welfare benefits should comply with the Uniform Supervision of Trustees for Charitable Purposes Act. Section 12588 of the act, for example, gives the Attorney General the powers to investigate any relationships and transactions made by the charitable benefactors. The Attorney General may summon any person or agent benefiting from the welfare scheme. Furthermore, the office of the Attorney General may order the production of any relevant documents of title, books, and receipts, which are needed to prove the validity of such a person.
Division 2 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code makes special provisions for children’s welfare benefits. The funds often go to the development of juvenile courts, as well as catering for delinquents who need reform. Additionally, foster care and rehabilitation of minors who do not have families and homes are funded through the welfare benefits fund. People who volunteer to take up such children in the foster care system require to receive supplementary funding by the government.
The division has also accommodated and provided for a select group of minors-those who cross the Mexico border into America. The children usually flee from adverse conditions like gang crimes, drug trafficking, and poor economic conditions. Based on the tragic circumstances that such children try to escape, the government chose to include them in the group of minors who are eligible to receive welfare funding and benefits.
Penalties of the Welfare Fraud Crime
The Welfare and Institutions Code of California creates the regulations of penalties that guilty persons could face. Section 10980 of the code gives the stipulated provisions for different groups of offenders. An accused person may be charged with a felony or misdemeanor. The charge depends on the circumstances relevant at the time of the commission of the crime. Welfare fraud is, therefore, a wobbler crime in this respect. The offense of committing the fraud may be against the taxpayers or recipients. All these factors are determined at trial.
When an accused is charged with a misdemeanor, he/she could face up to one year in jail, or a fine amounting to a maximum of $1000. In some cases, the judge may impose both penalties on the defendant.
Should you be found guilty of a felony, you could face more adverse penalties. A jail term of up to 3 years or a fine amounting up to $5000 will be imposed on you. Similar to misdemeanors, the judge may also choose to impose both penalties on you. All this is dependent on the circumstances surrounding your case.
In a case involving government employees involved in embezzlement, they may face the sentence of a three-year jail term. If the embezzled funds exceed $65,000, the employees could face an additional penalty of one to four years in jail. The total sentence could, therefore, amount to a maximum of seven years.
For food stamp fraud, the penalties issued depend on the value of the sold stamps. If the food stamps sold amounted to $950 or less, a defendant would face a maximum jail sentence of 6 months. Additionally, he/she could face a $500 fine or both penalties. If the value of food stamps surpasses $950, the defendant faces a sentence of sixteen months to three years in jail or a $5000 fine or both.
Available Defences to the Crime of Welfare Fraud
The crime of welfare fraud affords several defenses, which are discussed below. For a defense to suffice in court, your lawyer should raise it in good faith. He/she should ensure that there is no hidden agenda or malice behind it.
Accused is a Victim of Welfare Fraud
Most accused persons are often victims of welfare fraud themselves and are left to carry the blame as a result of the fraudulent means used to manipulate them. In most cases, fraudsters are very cunning and can obtain vital personal information from you. They are well versed with avoiding linkage to their real personas, and will, therefore, quickly leave their victims to face the consequences.
The defense is a genuine one that your Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer attorney is capable of raising. A diligent lawyer will endeavor to prove that you lacked the requisite intent to commit the fraud, as well as build reasonable doubt to the prosecution’s side regarding their claim of your indulgence. Your lawyer will also include the genuine belief of legitimacy in carrying out your actions, as you may have had no way of verifying that a trickster was illegitimate.
The defense of compulsion is very appropriate and helpful, especially in domestic cases. The scenario of one spouse compelling another to conceal or lie about certain aspects of their lives is very likely. A perfect example is where a spouse forces the companion to act as if they are separated or divorced so that they can obtain added single-parent benefits.
Moreover, there are scenarios whereby one spouse may impose the idea of foster care on the other, only with the incentive of foster benefits in mind. The inclusion in the foster care system may be a venture that they may not be prepared for altogether, and the child under their care could end up suffering.
Compulsion also affects people who may be forced to disclose their identification details to the fraudsters, who are determined to obtain such information using any means possible.
In raising your defense, your lawyer should prove that you had no alternative means to act and that the compulsion was coercive, including threats of harm or even death if you failed to comply.
Contact a Welfare Fraud Defense Attorney Near Me
At the offices of the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we understand the various dynamics and aspects that may be filed against you in a claim of welfare fraud. Our purpose is to provide our clients with the best legal advice and court representation we can achieve, thanks to our team of well-experienced lawyers. If you are facing any charge related to welfare fraud, give us a call today at 310-502-1314. We will be happy to walk you through and beyond the litigation process.