Did you know that collecting welfare benefits that you’re not entitled to is a crime? San Diego welfare fraud attorney Vikas Bajaj knows how important welfare programs in California can be. When you face tough economic times you may stretch the truth about your income or need in order to get more government benefits for your family. When this happens you can potentially be charged with a crime.
In some cases, charges of welfare fraud can have serious criminal consequences. You can even lose the right to collect future benefits if you are convicted. The best way to reduce the potential negative consequences of welfare fraud is by contacting an attorney like Vikas Bajaj. With nearly two decades of experience, Mr. Bajaj has the experience that you need in a defense attorney. He understands how the prosecution will approach your case and the steps that need to be taken to limit the consequences you face. He will aggressively fight to have the charges against you reduced or dismissed. Contact his office today to schedule a free initial meeting.
California Welfare Fraud Laws
Broadly defined, welfare fraud is the act of deceiving the government into giving you welfare program benefits to which you would not otherwise be entitled to receive. However, welfare fraud can be committed in many ways. California’s primary welfare fraud law, which can be found in the Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10980, outlines the specific behaviors and acts that can trigger criminal liability for fraud.
Making a False or Misleading Statement to Receive Benefits
You can be charged with the crime of welfare fraud under WIC 10980(a) if you lie deceive the government into giving you benefits that you are not eligible to receive. Specifically, it is a crime to:
- With the intent to deceive;
- Make a false or misleading statement or fail to disclose information;
- In order to receive welfare benefits that you are not entitled to have.
Fraud can be committed with the intent to (1) start receiving benefits, (2) continue to receive benefits once your eligibility has expired, or (3) receive more benefits than you are lawfully entitled to have.
Penalty: Applying for fraudulent welfare benefits is a misdemeanor offense.
Multiple Applications or False Applications for Welfare Benefits
You can be charged with the crime of welfare fraud under WIC 10980(b) if you try to defraud the government by submitting multiple applications for benefits or use a fake identity to recover benefits. Specifically, it is a crime to knowingly submit:
- More than one application for benefits with the intent to establish multiple entitlements;
- An application for aid for a fictitious or nonexistent person; or
- An application using a false identity.
Penalty: Submitting multiple or false applications for benefits can be a misdemeanor or a felony.
Receiving or Collecting Fraudulent Welfare Benefit
The first two sections of WIC 10980 target attempts at collecting fraudulent welfare benefits. You can be charged with the crime of welfare fraud under WIC 10980(c) if you actually obtain or retain fraudulent welfare benefits.
Penalty: The criminal penalty for receiving or collecting fraudulent welfare benefits will depend on the value of the fraudulent benefits collected. The crime is a misdemeanor if the total value of the benefits was $950 or less. The crime is a felony if the total value of the benefits is more than $950.
Using, Manipulating, or Transferring Blank SNAP Benefits
You can be charged with the crime of welfare fraud under WIC 10980(d) if you knowingly use, transfer, acquire, or possess blank authorizations for SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits, also known as CalFresh benefits, must be used by the person to whom they are distributed. SNAP benefits cannot be sold, altered, or transferred. You can, however, take the initiative to authorize someone else to use your food stamps. Failure to follow the SNAP benefit program guidelines and regulations can result in criminal charges under this law.
Penalty: Abusing SNAP benefits as described above is a felony offense.
Counterfeiting SNAP or CashFresh Benefits
You can be charged with the crime of welfare fraud under WIC 10980(e) if you counterfeit or alter SNAP benefits. It is also a crime to use, transfer, acquire, or possess SNAP benefits that you know are counterfeit or have been altered.
Penalty: Counterfeiting or using counterfeit SNAP benefits is a crime of forgery, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Criminal Penalties for Welfare Fraud in California
Welfare fraud can be committed in a number of ways. Each act of welfare fraud will be charged as an individual offense. The specific charge you will face for welfare fraud will depend on:
- The type of welfare fraud you have been accused of committing;
- The value of the fraudulent benefits you received;
- The number of fraudulent claims you made; and
- Your history of criminal behavior.
Some acts of welfare fraud are wobbler offenses. This means that they can be charged as misdemeanor crimes or felony crimes. For the purposes of welfare fraud, the charge will generally depend on whether the value of the fraudulent benefits exceeded $950.
Misdemeanor convictions for welfare fraud carry a possible sentence of no more than one year in a San Diego County jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Felony convictions for welfare fraud carry a possible sentence of 16 months, 2, or 3 years in a California state prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
San Diego Welfare Fraud Diversion Program
If you are a first-time welfare fraud offender in San Diego County you may be eligible to participate in the County’s Welfare Fraud Diversion Program. This program allows you avoid a criminal conviction in return for paying back the entire amount of benefits you fraudulently received.
San Diego County unveiled the program in 2007 after it found that most people who were committing acts of welfare fraud were:
- legal residents,
- not a criminal threat to the community, and
- one-time offenders.
In many cases, the County found that welfare fraud was a result of ignorance of the law or a lack of personal accountability. The County implemented the diversion program as a way to:
- Deter welfare fraud;
- Keep the jails open for greater threats to society;
- Focus prosecutorial resources on more substantial fraud; and
- Reimburse taxpayers for misappropriated welfare benefits.
If you are eligible to enroll in the San Diego Welfare Fraud Diversion Program you will be required to enter a plea of guilty. The court will hold your plea without entering it. You will be required to pay full restitution (pay back the value of the benefits you unlawfully collected or attempted to collect). Once you have paid the government back, in full, the court will dismiss the charges against you. Contact an experienced San Diego welfare fraud defense attorney to learn more about this program.
Defending Charges of Welfare Fraud in California
Common defenses to accusations of welfare fraud in California include:
- You did not have the required knowledge;
- You did not have the required intent to commit fraud;
- You were not aware that you had to declare certain income;
- You accidentally submitted more than one application or claim for benefits;
- You made a mistake or typo on your application;
- You forgot to update your status when your financial or family situation changed;
- You were falsely accused of welfare fraud.
When you meet with your attorney, he will review your case and determine which defense(s) may be appropriate. Each case will be different. It is important to be entirely honest and forthcoming about the details of your case. Do not leave any details out when you are speaking with your attorney. Even the slightest detail could make or break your defense. Your attorney will know which information is relevant and which information is not.
Fighting Welfare Fraud in California
California takes accusations of welfare benefit fraud very seriously. The state has allocated a lot of time, money, and resources into investigative units that focus entirely on welfare fraud. California will not hesitate to investigate, charge, and prosecute crimes of welfare fraud. If you have been accused of, investigated for, or charged with welfare fraud in California you should contact an attorney. Hiring an attorney like Vikas Bajaj is the best way to reduce the negative consequences you may face.
San Diego welfare fraud attorney Vikas Bajaj uses an aggressive pre-investigation process to help his clients from the start. This process often results in getting the criminal charges against his clients reduced to lesser charges or dismissed altogether. Contact his office today to learn about how he may be able to help you with your welfare fraud case.