What is Welfare Fraud?
In Florida, “welfare fraud” is a general term to describe a wide variety of fraudulent conduct focused on illegally retaining, receiving, misappropriating, seeking, or using state and federal public assistance, service, or benefits. These sorts of violations can range from disclosing incorrect information to smuggling food stamps.
What are some commonly prosecuted types of welfare fraud?
The most common type of welfare fraud is Failure to Disclose a Material Fact. A prosecution can only occur when the defendant knowingly failed to disclose a material fact through any variety of means- misrepresentation, false statement, impersonation, etc.
Aiding or Abetting is the assistance of another person in committing welfare fraud. This can include helping a person to fail to disclose a change in circumstances regarding receiving aids which they are not entitled to, or providing a false material fact by misrepresentation, impersonation, etc.
Change of Circumstances is similar to Failure to Disclose a Material Fact- but in this certain case, it must be that the defendant failed to disclose a change in circumstances in order to receive aid or benefits that they are not entitled to.
In all of these cases, fraud is only prosecutable if the information that was given by the defendant was knowingly used to receive benefits that they were not entitled to, and these benefits were received from a federal program.
If the value of the public assistance is less than a total value of $200 in a 12 month period, the offense is only a first-degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to one year in jail and a $1000 fine. However, if the value of the public assistance fraudulently received is worth more than $200, the offense is upgraded to a third-degree felony, with penalties of up to five years in prison and a $10000 fine.
How can one be defended from charges of welfare fraud?
There are numerous defenses available to contest a welfare fraud charge in Florida. Typically, these defenses are aimed at intent. For example, if the defendant knowingly failed to disclose a material fact or change in circumstances, it will be hard to defend such a case. But, if such nondisclosure was because of a mistake or negligence, the defendant may have a case to defend themselves.