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Welfare Fraud: An Evil Tax on Poor People

The California Legislature has decided that people who “defraud” the Welfare System should be punished with criminal sanctions. Welfare and Institutions Code section 10980 punishes those who, with the intent to defraud, take more benefits than they are entitled to in a variety of ways.

The idea of punishing those who “take more than they are entitled to” is outrageous when “what you are entitled to” is starvation wages, poor quality of life, limited access quality to public education, healthcare, or physical security.

Still, California has seen fit to criminalize the fraudulent obtaining of welfare Benefits both a misdemeanor and a felony, depending on a variety of factors.

What is Welfare Fraud?

Welfare and Institutions Code section 10980(a) states that any person who knowingly, with the intent to deceive, makes a false representation or fails to disclose a material fact in order to obtain aid knowing they aren’t entitled to it is guilty of welfare fraud.

This is misdemeanor welfare fraud.

There is a more specific offense, Welfare and Institutions Code section 10980(b), which makes it a felony to commit welfare fraud using the name of a fiction person.

Some welfare fraud offenses vary in seriousness (between misdemeanor and felony) based on the amount of money taken

What’s the Worst that could happen?

  • Welfare and Institutions Code section 10980 (b) – Claiming benefits for non-existent child
    • (1) $950 or less – misdemeanor – 6 months county jail maximum, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both imprisonment and fine.
    • (2) $950 or more -felony –16 months, two years, or three years in state prison by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine;
      misdemeanor
      – 1 year county jail maximum, $1,000 fine.
  • Welfare and Institutions Code section 10980(d) Defrauding SNAPfelony, punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.
  • Welfare and Institutions Code section 10980(g) Defrauding CalFresh – misdemeanor if the value is $950 or less, and a felony if its over $950 felony, –
    • Felony – 16 months, or two years, or three years state prison, $5,000 fine, or by both that imprisonment and fine –
    • Misdemeanor – 1 year county jail maximum and $1,000 fine

Also, under Article I section 28 of the California constitution, any person convicted of a crime must be ordered to pay restitution to the victim. Restitution is the amount that the victim lost because of the alleged criminal conduct. So in addition to fines and jail, a person will generally be ordered to repay whatever the value that was allegedly taken.

What defenses are available?

To be convicted at a trial, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that

  1. The defendant obtained or attempted to obtain welfare benefits
  2. The defendant was not entitled to the benefits sought
  3. The defendant knew at the time he obtained or attempted to obtain benefits he was not entitled to them
  4. When the defendant obtained or attempted to obtain the benefits, he intended to defraud

A person acts fraudulently when he or she takes undue advantage of another person (like their employer) or causes a loss to that person by breaching a duty, trust or confidence. (A bank teller has a duty to accurately report all deposits and to not take the money. If the bank teller takes the money, they have likely committed an embezzlement)

Welfare Fraud is therefore a specific intent crime, meaning that the prosecutor must prove not only that you moved the property but that you did so that you could use it for your own gain.

What should I do if I am charged with Welfare Fraud?

You should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, like those at Manshoory Law Group, APC to assist you in analyzing the specific facts of your case, preparing and presenting defenses before and during trial, and making sure you understand your rights and helping you enforce them. The risks of a Welfare Fraud conviction are too great to go-it alone. Call now for a free consultation.

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