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Welfare Fraud

Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 WIC - Welfare Fraud

California offers several welfare programs, such as CalWORKs, CalFresh, Head Start, GAIN, Medicare, and general assistance. They are designed to help unemployed and underemployed people with housing, food, and necessities.

Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 WIC - Welfare Fraud

However, suppose somebody attempts to defraud the system and receive benefits they are not legally entitled to. In that case, they could face welfare fraud charges under California Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 WIC.

When someone requests welfare benefits, they must provide accurate information, such as their income, dependents, and living situation. Receiving benefits is a crime if you give false, misleading, or inaccurate information. Usually, an investigation occurs before charges are filed.

WIC 10980 occurs when a welfare recipient or employee intentionally provides false information to receive benefits, food stamps, or Medi-Cal benefits.

Some of the most common reasons people are exposed to charges of welfare fraud are when they do any of the following:

  • Fail to report income or property;
  • Falsely claim dependents;
  • Receive benefits from another state;
  • Failing to report a child moved out; and
  • Provide additional false information to receive benefits.

Most welfare fraud cases are “wobblers” that can be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony crime. There are huge fines, probation, community service, and possible jail time if convicted. You will also have to pay back the benefits you unlawfully received. Let's review this state law in more detail below.

What Does the Law Say?

California Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 says, “(a) Any person who, willfully and knowingly, with the intent to deceive, makes a false statement or representation or knowingly fails to disclose a material fact to obtain aid under the provisions of this division or who, knowing they are not entitled to it, attempts to obtain aid or to continue to receive, or to receive a larger amount is guilty of a misdemeanor… punishable by a fine and imprisonment.”

Simply put, it's a crime willfully make false statements to get benefits they are not legally entitled to receive. When someone receives aid through CalWORKs and CalFresh, the benefits are distributed electronically into an account linked to an Electronic Benefits Transfer "EBT" card. 

WIC 10980 specifically identifies specific acts in defining welfare fraud, including the following:

  • Intentionally making a false statement to get welfare benefits;
  • Concealing information to receive welfare benefits;
  • Fill out multiple applications to get more benefits;
  • Applying for welfare benefits under different names;
  • Selling food stamps for cash.

Incidents of welfare fraud fall into two categories: recipient fraud and internal fraud. Recipient fraud occurs when someone receives or attempts to receive welfare benefits for which they are not eligible.  

For example, somebody applies for food stamps (CalFresh) but intentionally omits information about their income. Internal fraud occurs when somebody who works for a welfare program misuses their position to help others illegally get benefits.

What Are the Penalties for WIC 10980?

Just to let you know, there are many ways to violate WIC 10980. Thus, the potential legal penalties for welfare fraud will depend on which subsection of the law you broke.

Penalties for Welfare Fraud in California

Some are misdemeanors, some are felonies, and there are "wobblers" that can be prosecuted as either of the following:

  • Most misdemeanor welfare fraud offenses are punishable by fines up to $1000 and up to one year in jail;
  • Most felony offenses carry fines of up to $5000 and are either 16 months, two years, or three years in a California state prison.

Let's review specific types of offenses. Obtaining fraudulent benefits or food stamps in violation of WIC 10980(f) is a misdemeanor if the value is under $950 or a felony over $950.

Making a false statement is usually a misdemeanor. If you file a fraudulent application using a fictitious name, it's a "wobbler." It's a felony crime to wrongfully acquire, transfer, sell, or use blank food stamp authorizations.

Enhanced penalties 

Suppose you are convicted of welfare fraud where the fraudulent benefits were transferred electronically in an amount greater than $50,000. In that case, you could face an additional 1-4 years in prison, depending on the specific total dollar amount unlawfully transferred.

What Are the Related Offenses?

What Are the Defenses for Welfare Fraud?

If you were accused of welfare fraud, a California criminal defense lawyer could use different strategies on your behalf, which are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue that you did not intentionally commit fraud. Recall that prosecutors have to prove your actions were willful. Maybe we can show you made an honest mistake on the application or failed to disclose information by accident.

Defenses for Welfare Fraud in California

Perhaps we can argue that you are the victim of mistaken identity. Maybe someone else filed a fraudulent claim using your name.

Perhaps we can argue that there is Insufficient evidence. Prosecutors are required to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, maybe you were careless when completing the paperwork, such as in cases of internal welfare fraud.

Suppose you can repay some or all of the fraudulent benefits. In that case, prosecutors are generally willing to negotiate a restitution agreement in exchange for reduced charges and penalties or even dismiss the case.  

Sometimes, you might be eligible for a diversion program, so you can get the charges dismissed after completing it.  Diversion is designed to lessen legal penalties for first-time offenders. In addition, it's possible to set up a payment plan. If you fail to follow the agreement, the judge will return to your guilty plea and sentence you.

Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor prefiling to avoid the filing of criminal charges in the first place, called a “DA reject.” You can contact our law firm for a free case consultation by phone or using the contact form. Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles, California.

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