Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
In Florida, welfare fraud is considered a serious offense, and those who are convicted face high penalties. Having a criminal record can have long-term effects on a person’s ability to seek employment, housing, or education, or join the military, so if you or a loved one have been charged with welfare fraud, it is vital that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your interests.
In Florida, welfare fraud is a general term used to describe a wide range of conduct involving illegally receiving or misappropriating public government assistance, services, and benefits. There are multiple ways that a person can commit welfare fraud.
Failure to Disclose a Material Fact
One common way that offenders commit welfare fraud is by failing to disclose a material fact. A person has committed the offense of welfare fraud involving non-disclosure of a material fact when:
- He or she fails to disclose a material fact by false statement, misrepresentation, or impersonation;
- The fact was used to determine the person’s qualifications to receive benefits; and
- The benefits came from a state or federal assistance program.
In Florida, it is also considered a serious offense to assist another in committing welfare fraud.
Fraud Involving Food Stamps and Medical Services
Another method of committing welfare fraud is through the unlawful possession or use of food stamps. A person can be convicted of fraudulently obtaining food stamps or medical services if a prosecutor proves that he or she:
- Used, transferred, trafficked, altered, or forged; or
- Attempted to use, transfer, traffic, alter, or forge; or
- Aided and abetted another person in using, transfering, trafficking, altering, or forging a food stamp, food stamp identification card, or a Medicaid identification card; and
- The possession was not authorized by law.
In Florida, welfare fraud can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the benefits obtained. For instance, when the value of the public assistance retained is less than $200 over twelve consecutive months, the offense will be charged as a first degree misdemeanor. A first degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year imprisonment, twelve months of probation, and the mandatory payment of a $1,000 fine.
However, if the aggregate value of the fraudulently obtained welfare assistance is more than $200, but less than $20,000, over a period of twelve months, the offense becomes a third degree felony. Third degree felonies have serious consequences and carry the threat of up to five years in prison, five years of probation, and a $10,000 fine.
Fraudulently obtaining welfare assistance valued at more than $20,000, but less than $50,000, is a second degree felony, which is punishable by fifteen years in prison as well as a mandatory fine. If the value of the benefits is more than $100,000, the offense is charged as a first degree felony, which carries a punishment of a thirty-year prison sentence.
Defenses to Welfare Fraud
There are a number of defenses that can be raised to a charge of welfare fraud, including:
- That the non-disclosed information was not material;
- Mistake or negligence;
- That the program was not funded by a state or federal government;
- That evidence was seized unlawfully; and
- That the accused did not intend to defraud.
If you are being investigated for or charged with welfare fraud, an experienced attorney may be able to get your charges reduced or even dismissed. Please call West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein at 561-533-1221 to schedule a free initial consultation.