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Welfare Fraud

The purpose of public assistance is to support those who are struggling financially. When people manipulate the system for their own benefit, it’s a crime. Welfare fraud otherwise known as public assistance fraud is a serious crime in the state of Florida.

Welfare fraud can be committed in a variety of ways. A person could make false statements, fail to notify the appropriate agency about a change of circumstances, or forge or traffic food stamps. No matter the circumstances, welfare fraud is a severe offense. If you or someone you know has been charged with welfare fraud, it’s crucial that you contact an experienced defense attorney.

Attorney for Welfare Fraud in St. Petersburg, Florida

Has a public assistance agency sent a fraud investigator after you? Were you accused of fraud and cut off from your food stamps or government welfare? If so, it’s imperative that you gain trusted legal representation. You could be charged with welfare fraud and face serious penalties. 

Start the first steps of your defense with Morris Law Firm, P.A.. Our attorneys have years of experience defending clients accused of fraud. We will use our defense techniques and resources to help you achieve the best outcome for your case. Call now at (727) 388-4736 to set up a free consultation. 

Morris Law Firm, P.A. accepts clients throughout the greater Pinellas County area including Bradenton, Largo, Dunedin, Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

 Overview of Welfare Fraud in Florida 


Welfare Fraud Under Florida Law

Public assistance fraud can be committed in a variety of ways. Florida Statute § 414.39 lists the different ways you can commit welfare fraud. You may be charged with public assistance fraud if you knowingly:

  • Make a false statement, misrepresentation or impersonation when asking for public assistance or any other federally funded assistance program;
  • Fail to notify the appropriate agency of a change in circumstances so you can continue to receive public assistance; or
  • Aid and abet another person into committing welfare fraud. 

It’s also a crime to fraudulently obtain or use food stamps. It’s illegal to intentionally: 

  • Forge food stamps;
  • Alter food stamps;
  • Possess, acquire or use fraudulent food stamps;
  • Attempt to forge or alter food stamps;
  • Attempt to use fraudulent food stamps;
  • Traffic food stamps; or
  • Aid and abet another person into food assistance benefits fraud.

The term “traffic” refers to:

  • Any buying, selling, stealing or exchanging of food assistance benefits for cash or goods. This includes information such as electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, EBT card numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs) or other identifying information.
  • Attempting to buy, steal or exchange food assistance benefits for cash or goods;
  • Exchanging guns, explosives, ammunition or illegal drugs for food assistance benefits;
  • Purchasing food with food assistance benefits to resell; or
  • Purchasing food with food assistance benefits to exchange it for cash or items.

Penalties for Welfare Fraud in Florida

Public assistance fraud comes with heavy penalties. You could face serious consequences including expensive fines and lengthy prison terms. It’s highly recommended you gain legal counsel if you’re charged with welfare fraud.

The penalties for welfare fraud depend on the value of benefits used in the last 12 consecutive months. The following chart explains the legal consequences for committing welfare fraud.

Amount of EBT

Offense Level

Fine

Jail/Prison Time

 

Less than $200

 

First-Degree Misdemeanor

 

$1,000

 

One year in jail

More than $200, but less than $20,000.

 

Third-Degree Felony

 

$5,000

 

Five years in prison

More than $20,000 but less than $100,000

 

Second-Degree Felony

 

$10,000

 

15 years in prison

 

More than $100,000

 

First-Degree Felony

 

$10,000

 

30 years in prison 


Owning two or more electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards is a first-degree misdemeanor. If you’re caught with two or more EBT cards for a second time, it’s a third-degree felony. In addition to statutory penalties, you may be required to serve at least 20 hours of community service. 


Statute of Limitations

Most crimes have a statute of limitations, which is a set time to file criminal charges. The prosecution must file formal charges against a person in the allotted time. If the District Attorney’s Office fails to file charges in time, they will be barred from prosecuting the crime.

The purpose of a statute of limitations is to preserve the integrity of evidence and eyewitnesses. The longer a crime goes unsolved, the chances of evidence deteriorating increases. In Florida, the statute of limitations is decided by offense level. Welfare fraud can range from a first-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, so the statute of limitations can vary. 

Listed below is the statute of limitations for welfare fraud:

  • First-Degree Misdemeanor – 2 Years
  • Third-Degree Felony – 3 Years
  • Second-Degree Felony – 3 Years
  • First-Degree Felony – 4 Years

Federal Penalties for Welfare Fraud

The United States Code doesn’t have a statute reserved solely for welfare fraud. Instead several statutes are used to determine welfare fraud penalties. Each of these statutes reflect a way welfare fraud can be committed. You can locate these statutes at U.S. Code Title 18.

Fraud in Connection with Identification Documents

A common way to commit welfare fraud is to use another person’s identifying information. Some various ways people steal identifying information is through the mail or online. They can then use this information to apply for welfare benefits in another person’s name. Some identifying documents include birth certificate, proof of income and social security card.

U.S. Code § 1028 states that a person commits fraud if they:

  • Steal an identification document;
  • Forge a false identification document;
  • Transfer an identification knowing that the document was stolen or false;
  • Possess five or more identification documents with the intent to transfer;
  • Possess a false identifying document with knowledge that it was obtained unlawfully;
  • Possess a machine that can produce false identifying documents and has the intent to produce false identifying documents; or
  • Traffic false or actual identifying documents

Fraud in connection with identification documents is 15 years if the documents involved are a:

  • Copy of an identifying document;
  • False copy of an identifying document;
  • Birth certificate;
  • Personal identification card;
  • Possesses another’s identifying information with intent to commit a felony.

You can also be sentence to prison for up to 15 years if you own a machine that produces false identifying documents.

False Statements Related to Healthcare

The United States offers Medicare or Medicaid for Americans who struggle financially. In some cases, a person may make false statements to obtain desirable benefits. However, this is illegal and can result in serious fines and incarceration. U.S. Code § 1035 states it’s illegal to: 

  • Falsify, conceal, or cover up any material facts;
  • Make any kind of false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations of healthcare documents; or
  • Intentionally creates false writing or documents related to healthcare.

Making false statements about health care can result in up to five years in prison and a fine determined by the court.


Additional Resources

Florida Welfare Fraud Laws – Visit the official website for Florida’s legislature to find more information about public assistance fraud. Access the statute to learn more about the charge specifics, penalties, and other related offenses. 

ACCESS Florida – Visit the official website for the Florida Department of Children and Families to learn more about the Automated Community Connection to Economic Self Sufficiency (ACCESS) program. Find more information about the different programs, how to apply and your local community partner.


Lawyer for Welfare Fraud in Pinellas County, Florida

If you or someone you know has been charged with public assistance fraud, it’s crucial that you contact a skilled attorney. If convicted, you’ll be required to pay expensive fines and possibly serve jail or prison time. This is not a time to be idle. Contact the attorneys at Morris Law Firm, P.A. today. 

Morris Law Firm, P.A. has represented numerous people accused of white collar crimes. We can create a strong defense for you with our years of knowledge. Call us now to schedule a free consultation at (727) 388-4736. We accept clients throughout the greater St. Petersburg area including Oldsmar, Tarpon Spring, Clearwater and Pinellas Park.


This article was last updated on December 31, 2018.

 

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