Millions of Americans receive welfare benefits legally, but unfortunately, there are some people who try to abuse the system and engage in welfare fraud. Welfare fraud offenses usually involve illegal actions to defraud various state and/or federal agencies via false pretenses and false representations, rather than overt theft.
Welfare fraud most frequently happens when a person gives incomplete or inaccurate information to qualify for benefits they should not receive. Seven ways that welfare fraud could be committed are: (Lifelock.com)
- Failing to report income or employment
- Failing to disclose your personal assets
- Making the claim to be a single parent when the other parent is living in the same house
- Submitting welfare benefit claims for children who do not exist
- Using a fake ID to get aid
- Selling food stamps for money
- Collecting welfare benefits in several states
A common welfare fraud scheme involves someone submitting false and/or misleading information to a government organization to obtain the welfare benefit. Welfare benefits that are often obtained fraudulently include medical assistance, housing vouchers and food stamps. (Justia.com)
Fraud happens when a person who receives welfare benefits lies about being eligible for those benefits. The lying can take form in the purposeful misstatement of facts, or a failure to provide information that would help the state or federal government determine that person’s eligibility for the benefits.
Welfare Fraud Charges Penalties
Someone who is found guilty of welfare fraud can face criminal conviction, penalties, fines, restitution and possibly disqualification from welfare programs. However, the punishment for welfare fraud will vary from state to state. Typically, the person who committed the fraud needs to repay the money that was improperly received, plus fines and interest charges. Punishment for this fraud can range from losing benefits for a period of time, or can include big fines and even jail time for the worst offenses.
If the fraudulent activity has been ongoing for many years, every state has a certain term in prison. For instance, in Nevada, if you try to secure benefits from more than one place at the same time, you will be barred from the program for 10 years. The penalty would apply even if the household does not actually get the several benefits at all. (Legalbegal.com)
A welfare fraud charge can be brought at the federal or state level. It depends on the source of the information and the agency doing the criminal investigation. The federal government can get involved because although many welfare benefits are distributed by states, they do receive federal funding for those benefits. As the fraud is dealing with federal funds, it is possible for serious cases of welfare fraud to be handled in federal court. You could be subject to federal sentencing standards, which can involve serious prison time.
Massachusetts Welfare Fraud Penalities
In Massachusetts, the program called Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) gives health insurance and cash to families in need who have dependant children, including women who are pregnant so these families can meet basic needs. Welfare fraud involving this or other state programs can be prosecuted as misdemeanor or felony offenses, depending on the size and duration of the fraud. (mass.gov). In the most severe felony cases, the penalty for welfare fraud in Massachusetts can be as high as 10 years in prison, plus full restitution and penalties. (cnhi.com).
Further, if you are convicted of welfare fraud and are not a US citizen, you can be deported or denied reentry into the US for life.
How Welfare Fraud Is Investigated
State and federal prosecutors typically investigate welfare fraud through tips and referrals from the general public via websites and hotlines, as well as tips and referrals that are offered to government agencies that are responsible for the distribution of welfare benefits. Many counties in most states have their own welfare fraud units that are dedicated to prosecuting these serious offenses.
Welfare Fraud Defenses
Someone who receives welfare benefits may receive a letter from a state or federal agency asking for the latest information on their employment and/or to verify previous applications. Anyone who is contacted by a welfare fraud investigator should talk to an attorney as soon as possible. In some cases, depending upon the state and agency, the matter will stay within that agency and will not be a criminal case. If the case is serious enough to be a criminal matter, the file will typically go to the fraud division of the state prosecutor’s office for that state.
Investigators will look for admissions and statements from you as soon as the case has been opened. Keep in mind that you do not need to make any statements to investigators. Get legal counsel and carefully review your own records of your benefits.
The best defense, if possible, in a welfare fraud case is to simply show you did not have fraudulent intent. If your defense attorney can prove that you had no intention of defrauding the welfare agency in question, then the case may be closed. Another possible defense is that it was a simple case of mistaken identity.
Welfare Fraud Examples
In 2014, there were three women employed by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services Commission who accepted cash payments for green lighting ineligible recipients for welfare benefits. The scheme occurred over 24 months, and the three women received more than $10,000 each.
The leader of the welfare fraud ring pleaded guilty in Texas to a state second degree felony theft of property charge and got two years in state prison, plus a fine of $200,000. The other two did not get jail time, but both had to pay $80,000 in fines and restitution.
It should be remembered that repayment is not a defense for state or federal welfare charges. Even if the money is available to pay back the state or federal government, or you already have paid them back, you still could be hit with a welfare fraud charge at the federal level.
What to Do If You Have Been Charged
If you are facing a welfare fraud charge from the federal government or the state of Massachusetts, it is important to seek effective legal defense immediately. The financial resources of the government are vast, and they pursue welfare fraud cases aggressively. Attorney Geoffrey Nathan has a long track record of successfully defending people accused of welfare fraud. He may be able to prevent your case from going to trial, but if a trial is required, Attorney Nathan has been successful in representing thousands of people accused of serious federal and state crimes, including in the cities of Boston, Springfield, Cambridge, Quincy and Lowell. For a free consultation, please text him at (617) 905-1433.
- Welfare Fraud Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.justia.com/criminal/offenses/white-collar-crimes/fraud/welfare-fraud/
- What If You Are Found Guilty of Welfare Fraud? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://legalbeagle.com/8744910-happen-found-guilty-welfare-fraud.html
- What Is Welfare Fraud? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.lifelock.com/learn-fraud-what-is-welfare-fraud.html
- Reporting SNAP or Economic Benefits Fraud. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mass.gov/how-to/report-snap-or-economic-assistance-cash-benefits-fraud