You may face welfare fraud charges under Nevada law if you intentionally omit or misrepresent material information to enable you to access welfare benefits to which you are not entitled. You can face charges under the state court, federal court, or both depending on your case’s facts. Welfare fraud is a Category E felony under Nevada law. If you face welfare fraud charges, you should seek the help of an experienced attorney to help you fight the charges. For reliable legal representation in Las Vegas, NV, contact The Law Offices of Martin Hart.
Definition Of Welfare Fraud Under Nevada Law
The definition of welfare fraud is extensive and encompasses several offenses that can be prosecuted as welfare fraud under Nevada law. Below are some of the typical examples of welfare fraud:
- A welfare applicant can commit fraud if they make a false statement to access welfare benefits.
- It is fraudulent to use a fake identity card to access welfare benefits
- Failing to report all your valuable possessions and real property when applying for welfare benefits is fraudulent
- A welfare applicant may commit fraud by accepting welfare benefits from more than one state
- It is also fraudulent for a welfare applicant to fail to disclose monies and other incomes they have received, which can be used to offset their benefits or which could make them ineligible for welfare benefits
- If a welfare recipient fails to report when a child or another dependent leaves home, they could face welfare fraud charges
- Another common way of committing welfare fraud involves receiving or accepting welfare benefits that you are no longer entitled to receive
A welfare office employee can also face fraud charges if they:
- Input the wrong information to enable an ineligible applicant to access benefits
- Deny an eligible or qualifying applicant benefits
Welfare benefits include benefits from several federal and state need-based programs, including:
SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
These benefits are given to people with no money or whose households have little income. After applying for SNAP benefits, the applicants are scheduled for an interview to determine their eligibility. During the interview, the applicant is requested to provide proof of certain information. After completing the interview, the welfare office informs the applicants via mail about their qualification status, including the benefits they will receive every month.
TANF – Temporary Assistance For Needy Families
The TANF program targets low–income families with children by helping them to achieve economic self–sufficiency. Other welfare programs in Nevada include:
- The program for children care and development
- Low-income home energy assistance
- State supplementary assistance
Nevada's Division of Welfare and Supportive Services is responsible for managing and administering these public assistance programs. When you commit welfare fraud, you can face charges under federal or state laws depending on the particularities of your case. Mainly, a defendant faces charges under either the state or federal court. Still, it is legal for the defendant to face federal and state charges simultaneously and for the same offense.
Investigating Welfare Fraud
The local prosecuting agencies in Las Vegas are responsible for investigating welfare fraud. In addition, many local district attorneys' offices have welfare fraud units that solely focus on investigating these types of crimes. Some of the sources from which prosecutors receive referrals include:
- Public hotlines and websites set aside to facilitate welfare fraud reporting
- Local department of social services institutions and agencies that oversee the distribution of welfare benefits
- Tips from statewide public reporting hotlines
- Any other agencies and institutions that suspect welfare fraud
When investigating a welfare fraud, the investigators often start by contacting the benefit recipients in question. The investigators then find out whether the suspects are receiving welfare benefits. They also determine the information that the recipients provided while applying for those benefits. Investigators may also contact family friends, co-workers, and neighbors to obtain further information that could prove and negate the welfare fraud. The unannounced witness interviews and home visits also help to reveal additional issues like:
- Child neglect or abuse
- Elder abuse
- Evidence of drug crimes
- Domestic violence
Other agencies that may be involved in the investigation process include:
- Adult protective services
- Child welfare services
- Family support services
- Other authorities and agencies that are relevant to the circumstances
After collecting all the relevant information, the investigator presents the information to the prosecutor. The prosecutor reviews the information and determines whether a criminal filing is necessary. If the district attorney feels that there is enough evidence to prosecute, he or she then files criminal charges against the perpetrators of welfare fraud. If the district attorney feels that the evidence is not sufficient, he or she may:
- Refer the case back to the investigators to gather additional information
- Reject the case after establishing that there is insufficient information or evidence of wrongdoing
Recipient Welfare Fraud
Recipient welfare fraud is the most common form of fraud. The people who receive or attempt to receive welfare benefits illegally commit this crime. There are many ways of committing recipient welfare fraud, with some being more common than others are. In addition to the examples of welfare fraud outlined earlier, additional forms of recipient welfare fraud include:
- An applicant claims that he or she is a single parent, yet the other parent lives with them.
- Failing to report additional money and other benefits
- Submitting a welfare claim for a child who does not live with the applicant
- Submitting a welfare claim for an ineligible or fictitious child
- Collecting benefits from other states in addition to benefits collected in Nevada
Internal Welfare Fraud
An internal welfare fraud occurs when an employee of a government agency that issues welfare benefits collects or attempts to collect or distribute illegal benefits from that agency. Usually, this inside job occurs when a welfare agency worker falsifies applications for ineligible family members and friends and splits the proceeds. For example, a welfare agency worker may create fictitious children, fail to report facts that would render their friends and family members ineligible, or make false claims about the applicants' income.
Workers who commit internal welfare fraud do not just face welfare fraud charges but also embezzlement charges. It is an offense to unlawfully take money or other property entrusted to you, commonly known as embezzlement. Therefore, if you are a social services worker, you know how to bypass some procedures or distribute welfare benefits. If you misappropriate those benefits, you could face possible imprisonment.
Penalties For Welfare Fraud Under Nevada Law
Welfare fraud is a Category E felony under Nevada law punishable by probation. However, if the defendant has two or more prior felony convictions, the judge may impose the following penalties for welfare fraud:
- Imprisonment ranging between one and four years
- Repayment of all the illegally obtained welfare benefits
- A fine of up to $5,000
If you commit welfare fraud, you may be ineligible to receive welfare benefits in the future.
Welfare Fraud is a Deportable Crime
As outlined by the Department of Homeland Security, welfare fraud is a deportable crime. Therefore, if a non–U.S citizen is arrested for welfare fraud under NRS 422A, they may be deported or rendered inadmissible into the United States. When the prosecutor accuses you of immigration fraud, you should hire an attorney who is well conversant with criminal defense and immigration law. The attorney can convince the prosecutor to drop the charges against you or charge the offense as a non–deportable crime.
Sealing of a Welfare Fraud Crime
After a Category E felony conviction, you can apply for a Nevada record seal two years after the case ends. However, the record sealing process may commence immediately if your case is dismissed and there is no conviction. It is important to note that a federal criminal record cannot be sealed, although some exceptions to this law exist.
Fighting Welfare Fraud Charges
If you face welfare fraud charges, you can use several legal defenses to fight the charges. An experienced Nevada fraud defense attorney will present the defenses on your behalf. Some of the most common defenses that you can use are:
You Did Not Have A Fraudulent Intent
Regardless of which fraud law you commit in Nevada, the prosecutor and the judge cannot convict you unless you intend to commit fraud. If the prosecutor can’t prove that you had fraudulent intent, they cannot charge you with welfare fraud. The jury may dismiss your charges and find you not guilty of the crime if fraudulent intent is not present. While using this defense, your criminal attorney can point out that:
- You submitted a legitimate claim for welfare benefits, and the incorrect omissions or statements were not intentional.
- You did not know that you needed to report certain income like inheritance, lottery winnings, or gifts to the welfare department.
- Once your children became ineligible for the welfare benefits, you forgot to update your status.
In the case of internal welfare fraud, your employer may have accused you of welfare fraud after noticing that:
- You had several duplicate files
- Some documents were missing from your case files
- You had suspicious contact with some welfare benefit applicant
Even if this evidence might seem incriminating, it is not conclusive. Even if the evidence might suggest that you were embezzling welfare benefits, the evidence is not conclusive. Without sufficient proof, you will be exonerated of welfare fraud. The law requires the prosecutor to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you committed welfare fraud.
Mistaken Identity or False Accusation
This defense is mainly applicable in cases involving internal welfare fraud but can also apply to recipients fraud cases. Even if welfare fraud occurred, it does not mean that you are the guilty party. Some people may accuse you of welfare fraud to take advantage of your position at the welfare agency. Perhaps you approved incorrect information due to negligence and not fraud intention.
Negligence could subject you to job loss but should not lead to criminal liability. In the case of recipient welfare fraud, someone might have altered your welfare benefits application form without your knowledge. Someone might have submitted a welfare claim using your name and social security number without your knowledge. You could be facing welfare fraud charges due to clerical errors that government agencies often make.
All the outlined reasons could lead to false accusations. Your attorney will consider all your case's facts before creating the most suitable defense.
Illegal Search and Seizure
If you feel that the police performed an illegal search and seizure while collecting evidence for welfare fraud, you can use it as a defense to fight your charges. The police may violate your constitutional rights if they fail to obtain a search warrant before visiting your home or office. Therefore, your criminal defense attorney will file a motion to suppress evidence. This motion seeks to have all the evidence obtained through illegal means excluded from your case. When the court excludes such evidence, the prosecutor may have no option but to dismiss the case for insufficient evidence.
According to Nevada law, a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, even if you are undergoing an investigation for welfare fraud, you still have constitutional rights that the police should not violate. Any form of police misconduct will form a good basis for your legal defense. During your arrest, the police should read your Miranda rights to you to avoid self-incrimination. The police should inform you that anything and everything you say could and will be used against you in court.
Usually, welfare fraud prosecutors are concerned with recovering or recouping all the money for the state or county. Therefore, if the defendant is in a position to repay all or a significant percentage of the money obtained through fraud, the prosecution may be willing to reduce the applicable charges or assign a light sentence.
Find a Las Vegas Fraud Attorney
If you learn that you are under investigation for welfare fraud, you should promptly contact a reliable criminal defense attorney. At The Law Offices of Martin Hart, we have experienced attorneys to help you fight welfare fraud charges in Las Vegas, NV. Contact us at 702-380-4278 and speak to one of our attorneys.