If you’ve received a letter from the Department of Public Assistance Fraud notifying you that there is an investigation to resolve discrepancies in your reported income contained in your application for benefits with any of the following agencies:
- Department of Children & Families,
- Agency for Health Care Administration,
- Department of Health, Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning,
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services, Social Security Administration,
- Federal Emergency Management Agency, or
- Social Security Disability;
it is imperative that you speak with an experienced Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney before responding to this notice. Doing so will help to minimize your potential criminal exposure during this investigation. Public assistance from the above agencies is often commonly referred to as Welfare, SNAP - food stamps, SSD benefits, FEMA individual household benefits, Unemployment Compensation, as well as, Medicare/Medicaid benefits.
The Attorneys at Taracks & Associates know that responding to that notice without consulting with an experienced Hillsborough Welfare Fraud Attorney may have disastrous unintended consequences. For example, did you know that if you received benefits that you were not entitled to, and you cooperated and paid those benefits back; you can still be charged with a crime for the receipt of those benefits - even if you paid them back? Fla. Stat. § 414.39(7).
Fla. Stat.§414.39 makes it a crime to knowingly fail to disclose a material fact to determine your qualification to receive public assistance from any state or federal assistance program. This includes failing to disclose facts including cash income, making false statements, misrepresentation, or even the impersonation of a different identity in any application for the receipt of benefits.
The penalties of a fraudulent application for benefits are based upon the amount of benefits considered wrongfully received, and are classified as follows:
- If the total benefit is less than $200.00 in a 12-month period, maximum penalty is up to a year in the County Jail, a 1° Misdemeanor.
- If the total benefit is greater than $200.00, but less than $20,000.00 in a 12-month period, the maximum penalty is up to 5 years in Florida State Prison, a 3° Felony.
- If the total benefit is greater than $20,000.00, but less than $100,000.00 in a 12-month period, the maximum penalty is up to 15 years in Florida State Prison, a 2° Felony.
- If the total benefit is greater than $100,000.00 in a 12-month period, the maximum penalty is up to 30 years in Florida State Prison, a 1° Felony.
These recently increased penalties are partly the result of Governor Rick Scott’s publicized push for stricter guidelines for these programs, that also included his Welfare Drug Testing Program that was recently overturned by the courts.
In addition to the above criminal penalties, you can also be “disqualified” from receiving future benefits because of failing to update information, providing false information to the agency in the application, as well as receiving a conviction for Public Assistance Fraud. The length of the disqualification can be between three months (first violation for not meeting work requirements), and to up to ten (10) years for a conviction based upon false identity fraud.
Florida Department of Children & Families Office of Public Benefits Integrity has recently announced a record $15 million dollars recovered in overpaid benefits in the first 3 months of this year. In the last 6 years there has been a total recovery of more than $134 million dollars in wrongful assistance payments.
These recoveries have been made even easier since Florida created a reporting reward program. This program provides a reward to anyone who reports a violation of Florida Public Assistance Fraud, and this reward is calculated to up to 10% of the recovered assistance funds.
The combined effects of the incentives for people to report suspected fraud in welfare and other public assistance benefits, Florida’s aggressive investigation of benefit applications, the ease of gathering information from online sources, and the fact that if you pay back even inadvertent accepted overpayments you are still subject to prosecution, results in significant implications of an allegation of Public Assistance Fraud.
Anyone who responds to an overpayment notice without first seeking legal advice is likely to take an unnecessary risk that is likely to lead long lasting and damaging results.
So, if you have received a letter, email message, or telephone message that there is a discrepancy with the reported income (or other questions regarding) your application for welfare or other public assistance benefits, call the experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys at Taracks & Associates for your Free Consultation today at 813-281-2897.
We understand the need to properly address these types of allegations. We also know how to develop strategies designed to minimize your criminal exposure, and at the same time create a solution tailored to your circumstance so that you can move through this troubling time.