Fraud is a broad range of crimes all involving someone who takes action to acquire undeserved benefits or assets, while putting others at a disadvantage. Fraud crimes usually involve contracts and similar agreements where two parties enter into some sort of a legal contract be it between a business and an individual, between two businesses or between two individuals. For example, filing out a credit card application in someone else's name, thus reaping the benefits of their credit while putting them at a financial disadvantage is a form of fraud. Similarly, lying or otherwise misrepresenting information on benefits and public assistance applications is a form of fraud that can be greatly disadvantageous to others because resources for public assistance are already so limited. There are also fraud cases where caregivers or family members use assistance money for their dependents for non-authorized purposes. The "agreement" between an individual and the issuing party, usually some state or federal government authority, is built in to the application for benefits. There might be language in the application that mentions answering all questions truthfully and you may have to sign your name in acknowledgment that you have done so. Welfare and public assistance fraud is a common type of fraud in California and elsewhere. Welfare is generally some sort of cash aid with the potential for supplemental food stamps, low-income medical benefits and other forms of assistance for needy Californians. The welfare system is crippled and so many Californians are in need, there just isn't enough to go around. Many people genuinely deserve benefits while some, who may or may not be on the cusp of qualifying for them, try to find ways to qualify. Arbitrary cut off points for the different factors to calculate eligibility for welfare mean some people who deserve and most importantly need public assistance will be denied. Unfortunately, the system is designed to weed out all but the most needy. Welfare fraud is not just blatantly lying in order to get free benefits; it can include slight misrepresentations of income or exaggeration of household costs that may cross you over the eligibility line. People who commit welfare can include those who are really in need as well as those who saw a way to make easy money. Regardless of your need, welfare fraud is a criminal charge in the state of California and is heavily prosecuted. California takes welfare fraud seriously. The California Department of Social Services encourages people to report welfare fraud. California welfare assistance is determined in part by how many people live in you residence, how many dependents you have and your combined income. Lying or misrepresenting any of these components would be considered welfare fraud. The California Department of Social Services has fraud initiatives to ensure the welfare programs California offers retain their integrity and effectiveness in providing aid to California's most needy. Suspected cases of fraud are investigated heavily. To be convicted of welfare fraud, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable belief that you willfully and knowingly misrepresented information or lied on an application or form that would enable you to obtain public assistance benefits. You must have done this with the specific intent to obtain such benefits. Lying and misrepresentation cover a wide range of acts like not disclosing all your income, not disclosing a criminal conviction that would render you ineligible for benefits, claiming a non-dependent as a dependent, saying you have more family members who live in your household than you do, failing to disclose supplementary income such as gambling winnings or insurance settlement monies or claiming a disability you do not have or that has not been verified. This can apply in scenarios where the individual is seeking to obtain such benefits they do not deserve, increase their benefits or is trying to prolong their receipt of them, after their eligibility expired. Those who are found to have committed welfare fraud will face a misdemeanor charge, under the California Welfare and Institutions Code, section 10980. This charge is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $500, or some combination of both. There are also various scenarios of the case that aggravate the sentencing, resulting in felony charges, increase jail or prison time and increased penalties and fines. If you are facing charges of welfare fraud, contact a criminal defense attorney with experience in fraud cases right away. The prosecution must prove you had the intent to commit fraud and this can be hard to prove. Mistakes on applications for benefits can happen to anyone; they are sometimes hard to understand and may ask for information you don't have. You may also just have misinterpreted what it was asking of you. The prosecution may not have a good case against you if they cannot prove you did not commit fraud willingly or knowingly and with the intent to illegally obtain benefits you were not otherwise eligible to receive.
If you or a loved one is facing charges of welfare fraud in California, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens for expert counsel. The skilled legal team at The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can help ensure you take the right next steps in your case. Contact our offices in Hanford and Visalia at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss your case.