Like every other state in the union as well as the federal government, Utah has a slew of public benefits programs put in place to help citizens who are down on their luck. There are a variety of different welfare programs available to eligible Utah families who are struggling, including the SNAP program for food stamps, Medicare health insurance, and housing assistance, among others. While most of those who use these programs are truly in need of the assistance, there are some who try to game the system by applying for welfare benefits even though they are not qualified. If you do this, you can be charged with the crime of welfare fraud and face harsh consequences.
At Overson & Bugden, our experienced Utah welfare fraud defense attorneys have successfully defended many clients across the state charged with this crime. We understand that a conviction for fraud can have effects far beyond the criminal penalties such as jail time and fines, including your potentially being barred from using these vital programs in the future, and we will fight to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. Call our office anytime at (801) 758-2287 for a free, confidential consultation.
Definition of Criminal Welfare Fraud in Utah
Criminal welfare fraud can take multiple different forms, all of which involve trying to deceive the system in some way, whether it be to benefit yourself or someone else. Perhaps the most common form of a welfare fraud crime is either lying or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly failing to disclose important material on your welfare application or any necessary supporting materials. You have to make many different disclosures of personal information when you are applying for public benefits, including marriage status, the people in your household, employment, household income, and the receipt of any gifts. Failure to make these disclosures or making false disclosures could lead to criminal liability under the code.
There are a number of other ways to charge a person with welfare fraud, including unlawfully using services like SNAP benefits. As part of the full disclosure requirements, an individual who, while receiving public assistance, acquires, income, money, or resources in excess of the amount they previously reported must report that excess to the government. If they fail to notify the proper state agency to which the client previously reported within 10 days after acquiring the excess income, money, or resources, they can be charged with welfare fraud. Furthermore, for providers, you could be criminally charged if you file a claim for payment for services or goods you did not actually provide.
Welfare fraud is taken so seriously by law enforcement and prosecutors because it is meant to act as a support system for people who need it to survive. Welfare benefits are not meant to supplement someone’s income but are instead often the only source of income for some people. By committing welfare fraud, a person is essentially taking up benefits that could be put to better use for someone else. People who receive welfare benefits may be closely monitored if fraud is suspected. A good attorney can help you clear your name and continue receiving the benefits you need. Call our Utah welfare fraud defense lawyer for help.
Types of Welfare Fraud Crimes in Utah
Welfare fraud can be committed by someone who is a recipient or provider of welfare. A recipient is an individual person who receives some form of welfare benefits, such as food stamps or housing assistance. A provider is an entity or organization that helps dispense benefits to recipients. A provider could be a grocery store that accepts food stamps or a landlord who provides discounted housing to people in need. Welfare fraud can be committed by both groups.
Recipients commit welfare fraud when they provide false or misleading information to the government to obtain money or benefits. For example, using someone else’s name to apply for food stamps when you do not need them would be welfare fraud. Another example would be lying about how many dependents you have so you can get more benefits than you actually qualify for. Providers can commit welfare fraud by lying to the government about how much assistance they are providing. For example, a landlord who provides discounted housing to people as part of a housing assistance program could lie about how many tenants they have and pocket the extra cash they receive.
In both circumstances, the penalties are determined in the same manner. The amount of money defrauded from the government will determined how severe the charges are. The more money a recipient or provider obtains through fraudulent means, the higher their charges will be. Whether you are a provider or recipient charged with welfare fraud, our Utah welfare fraud defense attorney can help you fight your charges.
Penalties for Welfare Fraud in Utah
Generally speaking, the severity of the offense is classified in accordance with the total value of all payments of money, assistance, or any other benefits or assistance received, misappropriated, misused, claimed, or applied for. If the total value is under $500, it is a Class B misdemeanor that is punishable by a jail term of no longer than 6 months and fines no greater than $1,000. When the total value is at least $500 or greater but under $1,500, it is a Class A misdemeanor that can be punished by a jail term no longer than 1 year and no more than $2,500 in fines. If the total value is at least $1,500 or greater but still under $5,000, it will be charged as a felony of the third degree punishable by a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and fines no more than $5,000. Lastly, if the total value is at least $5,000 or more, the potential charges will be a felony of the second degree punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 15 years and no more than$10,000 in fines.
These penalties can vary depending on the particulars of your case, and it would be best to consult with a skilled and qualified Utah criminal defense attorney like the ones at Overson & Bugden who can look at the specifics of your charges and advise you of the criminal liability you might be facing. Any conviction for crimes of fraud on your criminal record will also make it more difficult for you to find employment or apply for professional licenses. A conviction for welfare fraud can also come with a ban on using certain public assistance services moving forward. To fully understand the potential penalties you might be facing, contact our Utah welfare fraud defense attorney as soon as possible.
How Welfare Fraud is Discovered or Reported in Utah
The Utah Department of Workforce Services is in charge of detecting and investigating any fraud involving welfare benefits or public assistance. The Department employs a full-time division dedicated to preventing welfare fraud in Utah. Fraud may be found out in any number of ways. The Department employs hotlines where anonymous individuals can report tips on the fraudulent activities of others. The Department also has access to state and federal databases they can use to compare information about recipients and providers. If certain information does not match up, they may suspect fraud. Additionally, the Department can initiate audits on people to determine if there is any fraud. There are so many ways the government can detect fraud that it is only a matter of time until a guilty person is found out. If you believe the Department of Workforce Services is investigating you for fraud, call our Utah welfare fraud defense lawyer immediately.
Once the Department believes it has found a case of welfare fraud, it will contact the state or county prosecutors to initiate criminal proceedings. Our Utah welfare fraud defense lawyer can help you defend yourself against criminal charges.
How a Welfare Fraud Case Plays Out in Utah
After an investigation and a successful application for an arrest warrant, the police will likely show up at your home and place you under arrest for welfare fraud. After being arrested, you will likely be transported to a local police department for questioning and be put through the booking process, where you are fingerprinted and photographed and your biographical information is collected. Once the booking process is complete, you will be held in the station’s holding cell or in a local detention center until your bail hearing and arraignment, which must occur at most within 72 hours of your booking.
At your arraignment, the charges against you will be formally read in court and you must enter an initial plea, typically not guilty. At your bail hearing, a judge will decide whether you must be held in jail until your case is resolved, can be released on your own recognizance, or whether they will set bail. The amount of bail is determined by multiple factors, including your criminal history. An experienced bail hearing lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden can work to have your hearing scheduled as quickly as possible and to have you released on reasonable bail or no bail at all.
After this, our Utah welfare fraud defense attorneys can assess the case and whether a plea bargain is a good idea. If we think so, we can work on getting you placed into an appropriate pre-trial diversion program or convince the prosecutors to downgrade the charges in exchange for your plea of guilty. If you decide not to accept a deal, our attorneys are ready to mount an aggressive case for your innocence at trial.
Defenses to Welfare Fraud in Utah
To be charged with welfare fraud, a defendant must have known that their actions were fraudulent. Basically, you must be aware of the rules regarding welfare benefits and purposefully or knowingly violate those rules in order to obtain money or benefits you otherwise would not receive. However, we know that the system of public benefits, including welfare benefits, can be very complicated and difficult to navigate. It is possible that you fraudulently obtained welfare benefits while under the impression your benefits were lawful.
If this is the case, do not panic. Being charged with welfare fraud does not mean you are automatically guilty of welfare fraud. Showing prosecutors that you were unaware of the fraud and are willing to cooperate may motivate them to drop the charges. Instead, you may have to pay back any money you obtained through fraud and hopefully avoid criminal charges. Our Utah welfare fraud defense lawyer can help you figure out the best defense for your case.
No matter what your case is, it is a good idea to keep thorough records of any welfare benefits you receive. In the case of a welfare audit, your history of receiving welfare benefits and personal information will be investigated in the hopes of finding fraud. By keeping a meticulous record of all your benefits and all the information you have provided to the government, you can help make the process smoother and get the case against you dropped.
Call Our Utah Welfare Fraud Defense Lawyers Today
A conviction for welfare fraud can have serious consequences, including lengthy prison sentences and high fines. You could also face the loss of a professional license if convicted of fraud, and may have future difficulties obtaining gainful employment. At Overson & Bugden, our compassionate Utah welfare fraud defense lawyers are here to guide and assist you throughout this scary process and to serve as your advocate. We will do everything within our power and abilities to bring your case to the most positive possible conclusion. Call our office anytime at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.