The federal government receives a lot of revenue in the form of taxes from taxpayers annually. The revenues generated are then allocated to various uses, one being the welfare program, a system developed by the government to care for the citizens unable to maintain the minimum living standards. Through the program, beneficiaries can access affordable housing, healthcare, food stamps, and cash.

Not everyone is eligible for the welfare fund, and many attempts to defraud the system through false information have been made. Luckily, the government criminalizes the fraudulent act of offering incorrect information to receive welfare benefits at the expense of the genuinely eligible. Also, government workers can be charged when distributing funds to ineligible persons. If you face allegations of welfare fraud in California, you should secure an attorney immediately, as the consequences of a conviction are harsh.

At the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we will protect you from false allegations by ensuring that the law takes its course. Additionally, our attorneys will offer legal guidance and representation to prevent a sentence and subsequent penalties. 

California Welfare Law 

California Welfare and Institution Code (WIC) addresses welfare funds, candidacy for the program, and those who oversee the system. With all these provisions, only the eligible candidate benefits from the program. You are contravening the law when you use means other than those provided by the law to obtain welfare benefits.

WIC sections 148 to 143 address matters concerning the welfare program's administration and its benefits to citizens below the minimum wage. Besides, the section outlines the agencies or institutions to distribute the benefits and provides rules and conditions employees working for the program must fulfill.

One crucial regulation requires entities charged with division and sharing benefits to keep a separate bank account for the welfare donations from their usual one for legitimacy. With a different account, the government can track all transactions. If you are qualified to request welfare donations, you must provide detailed information when opening a separate account. And if the details you have shared on the application do not match those of the account, the government will easily detect fraudulent intent.

Similarly, the welfare fund’s solicitor must maintain proper records of all dealings and application areas. Again, the government agency overseeing the distribution of the benefits will require you or your organization to keep a tab on funds benefactors.

Moreover, when applying for the benefits, you must observe the Uniform Supervision of Trustee for Charitable Purposes Act. Sec. 12588. The act authorizes the Attorney General (AG) to look into dealings and relationships by charitable benefactors. The AG can order you, an agent, or an individual benefiting from the welfare funds to produce all paperwork relating to your title, books, or receipts for validity.

The other WIC section addresses children’s welfare benefits and provides laws. The funds go into juvenile court systems and care for the delinquents during rehabilitation. Again, these funds benefit children in foster care or those without families. Further, foster parents obtain supplementary funding from the government through the welfare fund to care for the children under their roof.

Additionally, children crossing the border to America from Mexico benefit from the children’s welfare fund because the government considers them to be fleeing poor economic conditions, criminal gangs, and drug trafficking. These conditions make these children vulnerable; hence the government’s move to include them in the welfare benefits scheme.

Overview of California Welfare Fraud

California has many needy families and individuals who need help accessing health care, food, and money. Therefore, several programs are run by the state to help these persons. Sadly, some individuals, employees of distributing agencies, or applicants defraud the program to obtain illegal benefits.

WIC 10980 defines two forms of welfare fraud; internal and recipient. Internal fraud occurs when government workers assign or distribute benefits to ineligible candidates other than those that are genuinely qualified.

On the other hand, recipient fraud occurs when applicants for welfare funds provide false or partial info to obtain Medi-Cal, food stamps, or cash benefits unlawfully.

You will face charges for WIC 10980 violation if you:

  • Willingly misstate info or deliberately withhold facts necessary in obtaining or increasing welfare benefits you are not entitled to
  • Apply for the benefits using different names or make several applications for multiple benefits
  • Utilize, receive, transfer, purchase, counterfeit, or change authorization necessary to acquire food stamps
  • Are a government worker fraudulently dividing and sharing welfare benefits with ineligible candidates

A conviction will occur if the prosecutor can prove all these facts beyond reasonable certainty.

Investigating Welfare Fraud

Prosecutors and the local District Attorney obtain many tips about welfare fraud instances. Some of the leads or referrals come from:

  • Social service organizations charged with the disbursement of welfare benefits
  • Individuals calling welfare fraud hotlines
  • Government agencies with reason to believe fraud has been committed

And because these are just allegations, an investigation by the relevant authorities commences immediately after the lead. The investigators reach out to the suspects and ask questions regarding their welfare benefits status and the info provided to qualify for the funds. Also, family members, colleagues, and friends are interrogated because they are the possible beneficiaries.

These investigations often uncover other crimes like elder abuse, child neglect, drug offenses, and domestic violence, opening doors for other government agencies like child welfare services to be incorporated into the case.

Once the investigations are over, a file is presented to the deputy DA, who decides whether the evidence provided is sufficient to bring welfare fraud charges after thoroughly evaluating the case. When there is adequate proof, the prosecutor files charges under WIC 10980. However, the prosecutor will drop the case and send it back to the investigating agencies for further investigations if the facts provided are insufficient to build a fraud crimes charge.

If the prosecutor files charges against you, they must prove all elements of the case and your actions that violated WIC 10980.

Welfare Fraud Elements

Welfare fraud occurs when you obtain welfare benefits fraudulently. The crime is achieved in various ways, bringing out the element of impersonation or deceit. Acts that can lead to WIC 10980 violation charges are:

Impersonation to Obtain Welfare Benefits

Recipient welfare fraud occurs when you utilize a false identity to obtain benefits. Several unlawful actions involve impersonation, including acquiring falsified identity documents, bribing government workers to receive a false identity, or coercing innocent individuals for identification details. Alternatively, using incorrect information to create an online profile for the application of welfare benefits is an offense. Another powerful way to obtain a fake identity is using a dead person’s identity to receive illegal benefits.

Obtaining Benefits from Two States Simultaneously

Another way of committing recipient fraud is having multiple accounts in different states, all in the government records and eligible for welfare benefits. The offense is widespread because the government cannot easily link these accounts to one owner. Other times, you can have individuals working under you to validate the accounts created.

Online Scam 

Welfare program online services have simplified the application process and made it easy for eligible candidates to obtain benefits. Nevertheless, technological advancements have not come without challenges because online scammers have found an opportunity to defraud individuals without an understanding of online safety guidelines. People are discouraged from sharing their personal information with strangers, but some are unaware of this. Scammers target these individuals by posing as government workers. They then request your personal info to complete the application and instead use it to create their fake accounts.

Claiming a Fictional Child

Lying about having children or one not living in your home is also a way of committing recipient welfare fraud. California statutes have provisions for those entitled to welfare benefits like Medi-cal. Only low-income Californians are eligible for these benefits, and claiming fictitious children to benefit from the program makes you guilty of welfare fraud.

Also, it is common for people to claim they are single parents living with children in their homes. Other spouses cooperate to create a situation where it appears they have parted ways, but in reality, they are still together. All this happens to deceive welfare agents on the ground to increase benefits or obtain extra to care for the children.

Failure to Report Income that Would Affect Your Benefits

The welfare program is for citizens with no survival means. Therefore, when you find a new job, you have a survival means, meaning your welfare benefits will be reduced or canceled. It is fraudulent to continue receiving these benefits after failing to report a new job that will affect your benefits.

Funds Embezzlement by Welfare Workers

Sometimes, welfare workers collude with applicants without access to public records to illegally distribute benefits to themselves, friends, or close family members. Besides, these workers could be guilty of erasing open government records and replacing them with fake ones to benefit persons other than those targeted by the program.

You will face welfare fraud charges when you engage in any of the above actions. First, the prosecutor will prove that you committed fraud by citing the above acts. Next will be to demonstrate intent. You typically engage in these acts to obtain welfare benefits, which explains your conduct.

Welfare Fraud Penalties

WIC 10980 outlines penalties for various offenders found guilty by the court. You will face misdemeanor or felony penalties depending on the nature of your crime. Also, the penalties for recipient welfare fraud differ from internal fraud committed by government workers. When as a recipient, you give a misleading statement to obtain welfare benefits, you face misdemeanor charges whose sentence attracts court fines of no more than $500 or jail incarceration for at most six months. Other penalties are as follows:

1.  Bring a Falsified Application

Welfare fraud will be filed as a wobbler when:

  • You make multiple applications under your name
  • You apply for a non-existent individual to be included in the list of welfare beneficiaries
  • You utilize someone else’s identity to apply for benefits

If the preferred count by the prosecutor against you is a misdemeanor, you risk no more than twelve months jail sentence or a monetary court fine of at most $1,000. When the preferred charge is a felony, a conviction attracts the following punishment:

  • Sixteen to thirty-six months of jail incarceration
  • A monetary court fine of no more than $5,000

2.  Fraudulently Receiving or Keeping Welfare Benefits

When you illegally obtain or retain welfare benefits not exceeding $950, the prosecutor will charge you with a misdemeanor WIC 10980 violation. The judge will impose a sentence of at most half a year or a financial fine of $500 upon sentencing.

Nonetheless, obtaining or retaining fraudulent welfare benefits of at least $950 is a felony. The penalties for the offense are:

  • 16, 24, or 36 months behind bars
  • A maximum of $5,000 in a financial court fine

3.  Sale, Misuse, or Purchase of Food Stamps

Participation in blank authorization conduct to benefit from food stamps is illegal. When you engage in any of these activities, you will face felony charges. A conviction for the count results in jail incarceration ranging from sixteen to thirty-six months. Additionally, the judge can impose a maximum of $5,000 in monetary court fines.

Nonetheless, you will face misdemeanor or felony charges if you illegally misuse, buy, or sell food stamps. Further, electronically transferring food stamp benefits to individuals other than those entitled by the law attracts criminal charges. The kind of charge the prosecutor prefers against you hinges on the food stamp’s value. When the food stamps are worth $950 or less, the offense is a misdemeanor whose sentence is a maximum of six months of incarceration or a court fine of $500. However, when the minimum value of the food stamps is $950, the offense is a felony whose sentence includes no more than 36 months of incarceration or a minimum of $5,000 in financial court fine.

4.  Electronic Welfare Benefits Transfer

When welfare fraud involves the electronic transfer of large benefits, you will face sentence enhancement. The judge will impose an additional and consecutive:

  • Twelve months incarceration when the value of the electronic benefits transfer is $50,000
  • Twenty-four months sentence when the benefits are above $150,000
  • Thirty-six months behind bars for a minimum of $1,000,000 worth of benefits
  • Forty-eight months of incarceration for benefits valued above $2,500,000

Other welfare fraud consequences are:

  • Disciplinary action from your profession board if you are a practicing license holder because WIC 10980 violation is a crime of moral turpitude
  • Deportation or removal if you are an alien
  • Disqualification from receiving public aid

These consequences are life-altering, and you must put all your efforts into preventing a conviction. The right way to achieve this is to talk to the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney for legal representation. We will guide you through the process and explore other options for a favorable outcome apart from prosecution.

Welfare Fraud Restitution

The main goal of prosecuting welfare fraud is to recover stolen money to put it to the intended use. Therefore, even after a conviction, you must pay restitution. Your defense attorney can negotiate with the presiding judge and prosecutor for a plea deal that involves restitution instead of criminal prosecution. Other times, the prosecutor and judge will be ready to offer a plea deal if you return some or all the money stolen in exchange for a reduced charge or sentence. The court can even place you in a diversion program to give you time to pay restitution.

Nonetheless, not everyone is eligible for a plea deal. You must have a clean criminal record, and the value of unlawful benefits should not be substantial. When you meet this criterion, it will be easy to return the stolen money for a charge dismissal.

Also, you can utilize the welfare fraud diversion program to avoid a criminal record. The program involves pleading guilty to the charge in exchange for a diversion program. The counts will be dismissed when you complete the program’s conditions, like restitution and mandatory classes. Nevertheless, when you violate the terms of the program, it will be canceled, and you will face the penalties provided for the crime under WIC 10980.

Sometimes, returning the illegally obtained money or benefits before charges are filed can persuade the judge to be lenient and reduce your sentence. However, the prosecutor does not guarantee a deal because you have voluntarily returned the money. They can proceed to file charges and even obtain a conviction. Nonetheless, when the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney is in your corner, they will present the offer before the presiding judge, leading to a lenient judgment.

Welfare Fraud Defenses

Welfare fraud accusations do not make you guilty of the crime. The investigative agencies must conduct thorough investigations and present a file to the prosecutor. When the prosecutor is satisfied with the evidence, they bring criminal charges against you. Still, fraud charges do not guarantee a conviction because, with the help of a criminal defense attorney, you can successfully contest the allegations. The defenses for a WIC 10980 violation are:

You are a Victim of Welfare Fraud

Online scams are very prevalent nowadays, and you could be a victim. Fraudsters can obtain your personal information and use it to receive welfare benefits illegally. And because they rarely leave evidence to link them with the fraud, you are left to face the consequences of a crime for which you are a victim.

Using this defense is not always easy because your attorney must demonstrate you lacked the intent to commit the fraud. They will cite your genuine belief in sharing information with the fraudsters and show that you had no way of knowing the person you shared your personal information with was a scammer.

You Were Compelled to Conceal or Lie About Your Life

Spouses sometimes lie they are divorced to obtain welfare as single parents. Others sign up for foster care just for the incentives provided by the fund and not to care for the child. If you are arrested for welfare fraud because of these domestic issues, you can argue that your partner forced you to state that you had separated in the application for the benefits. The defense will hold if your attorney can prove that you were compelled through threats of physical harm or death to force you to comply with their demands.

Also, you can claim that your spouse forced you to disclose the information to fraudsters, who were willing to obtain your personal info by all means.

Lack of Fraudulent Intent

Another potent defense your attorney can utilize to contest the charges is arguing that your actions were accidental and not deliberate. The law expert will claim that as far as you are concerned, you submitted a legal claim for the benefits, and if you concealed or gave a false representation, it was by accident. The argument will work for both recipient and internal fraud. 

Also, a lack of fraudulent intent will work if you are charged and will not report income that could affect your benefits. Your defense attorney will argue that the earnings were a gift, lottery, or inheritance you were unaware of and therefore could not report them to the welfare service. Further, the attorney could argue that you innocently forgot to update your status after your child became ineligible for the benefits.

Insufficient Evidence

Some welfare fraud charges are based on circumstantial evidence. Without concrete proof that you acted fraudulently, it will be difficult for the prosecutor to obtain a conviction. Probable evidence like having several duplicate files or missing documents are red flags that can trigger suspicions of fraud, but in court, it will be insufficient to prove guilt. Your attorney should analyze the prosecutor’s evidence and poke holes in the evidence provided to prove fraud. If there is no adequate evidence to show you are guilty, the charges will be dropped.

Find an Experienced Fraud Crimes Attorney Near Me

When you face welfare fraud allegations for the first time, you will feel scared and overwhelmed. However, these cases are not entirely hopeless because, with the help of an attorney, you can formulate legal defenses for a fair outcome. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we are eager to give you all the info about welfare laws and discuss your charges. Call us today at 619-877-6894 to schedule a meeting.