A West Palm Beach woman is facing charges of public benefits fraud after she lied about her income to acquire health insurance and food stamps, according to the police. The woman reported that she was making $190 a month from Walmart and qualified for benefits on that basis. Had she reported her actual income, the police contend, she would not have qualified. She then switched jobs but reported making about the same amount of money or less.
An investigation of the defendant revealed that she was gainfully employed and under-reporting her income. In fact, she was earning about $44,000 a year, according to investigators. As a result of the misinformation, the woman acquired over $4,000 in supplemental food assistance and $3,000 in Medicaid disbursements. She has since been charged with public aid fraud.
Understanding welfare fraud
Welfare fraud is an umbrella term that includes a number of illegal acts. In most cases, an individual can be charged with failing to disclose a material fact that the government requested. You are also required to swear an oath on the application attesting that the information you provided is true. In a case where the defendant fails to disclose a material fact, the government must establish the defendant knowingly made this omission and that the omission contributed to the decision to award public assistance benefits. Once the benefits are disbursed, the crime is considered completed and the prosecutors have the elements necessary to prove the case.
Additionally, welfare fraud can occur when the defendant knowingly fails to disclose a change in circumstances that would otherwise cause their benefits to be discontinued.
Penalties for welfare fraud
If a defendant is accused of stealing $200 or less, then the crime is considered a misdemeanor. Any more than that and the crime is upgraded to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in state prison, five years of probation, or a fine of $10,000.
Defendants generally plead ignorance in these cases, although it can be difficult to do so in many. To prove any fraud prosecution, the prosecutor must establish that the defendant knew that they were lying at the time. While it can sometimes be difficult to prove intent, someone who underreports their income by 700% is unlikely to convince anyone that they didn’t know what they were doing. In other cases, making a false statement cannot be used against you if the government did not use the false information to make a decision regarding benefits. There may be other honest reasons why the information provided ended up being incorrect. From the government’s perspective, it’s all a matter of the numbers not adding up. But they still have to prove intentionality.
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The Skier Law Firm, P.A. represents the interests of those charged with serious crimes in West Palm Beach. Call our West Palm Beach criminal lawyers today to discuss your charges in more detail and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.