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Are You Being Investigated for Welfare Fraud in NYC?

Last updated on: May 3, 2024

By Lebedin Kofman LLP

Welfare fraud is a serious crime that can lead to severe consequences if convicted. It involves obtaining public assistance benefits through fraudulent means, such as providing false information or failing to report relevant details. If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s crucial to seek legal guidance and protect your rights.

Navigating a welfare fraud investigation can be complex, but you don’t have to face it alone. At Lebedin Kofman LLP, our experienced New York City fraud attorneys understand the intricacies of New York’s welfare fraud laws and can provide you with strong legal representation. We can examine the details of your case, build a solid defense strategy, and work tirelessly to protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome for your situation. Don’t wait, call us today at 646-663-4430 to schedule a consultation and let us help you through this challenging situation.

What is Welfare Fraud?

Welfare fraud is the crime of receiving public assistance benefits based on some type of fraudulent act.

How do Welfare Fraud Investigations Start?

Welfare fraud investigations can start because benefits recipients did or didn’t do one of the following:

  • Didn’t disclose all sources of earned income
  • Didn’t disclose all sources of unearned income
  • Didn’t disclose contributions from others
  • Didn’t disclose that the child’s parent was either living with them or supporting them
  • Provided fake employment letters to HRA
  • Run cash businesses and show very low-income
  • Live outside of New York City
  • Didn’t disclose property or bank accounts

Welfare fraud investigations can start in a number of ways. The HRA may receive a tip from a concerned citizen, or they may conduct an audit of a benefits recipient’s records. The HRA may also investigate a benefits recipient if they are suspected of receiving benefits that they are not entitled to.

Once the HRA begins an investigation, they will gather evidence. This evidence may include financial records, employment records, and witness statements. The HRA may also interview the benefits recipient and other witnesses.

If the HRA believes that there is sufficient evidence of welfare fraud, they will file charges against the benefits recipient. The benefits recipient will then have the opportunity to defend themselves against the charges in court.

How Long Does a Welfare Investigation Take?

When it comes to welfare fraud investigations, the time frame for resolution can vary significantly based on several factors. Generally speaking, the process could be as brief as a few months, but it can stretch much longer depending on the complexity of the case. Welfare fraud encompasses a range of fraudulent activities, including food stamp fraud, and each case comes with its unique set of challenges.

Factors Influencing the Investigation Duration:

  • Case Backlog: A high volume of pending investigations can lead to delays, as agencies work through the queue.
  • Evidence Collection: The speed at which documents, records, and other necessary evidence can be gathered affects the timeline.
  • Interviews and Surveillance: Conducting interviews with potential witnesses and surveillance activities, such as reviewing video footage, can be time-consuming.
  • Scope of Allegations: The broader and more complex the allegations, the longer it may take to investigate each aspect thoroughly.
  • Emerging Fraud: Occasionally, new instances of fraud are uncovered during an investigation, which can extend the investigation time frame.

Despite these variables, welfare fraud investigations tend to commence swiftly. In fact, the initial steps are usually taken promptly after suspicions are reported. However, it could be 30-60 days before an investigator is actively working on a particular case, especially if they are managing a heavy caseload.

Potential Felony Criminal Charges

The potential criminal charges for welfare fraud in NYC include:

  • Felony welfare fraud (NY Penal Law § 158.25)
  • Felony grand larceny (NY Penal Law § 155.05)
  • Felony offering a false instrument for filing (NY Penal Law § 175.35)

Felony welfare fraud is a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to 7 years in prison. Felony grand larceny is a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Felony offering a false instrument for filing is a Class E felony, which is punishable by up to 4 years in prison.

Is Welfare Fraud a Felony?

Welfare fraud involves unlawfully obtaining public assistance benefits through fraudulent actions, such as providing false information on benefit applications, withholding information about other benefits received, or failing to report income. In the state of New York, there are four different felony offenses related to welfare fraud, each with varying consequences based on the amount of fraudulent benefits received.

  • The most severe form is welfare fraud in the first degree, outlined in New York Penal Law section 158.25. To be charged with this offense, two conditions must be met: intentionally engaging in fraudulent welfare activities and receiving benefits exceeding $1,000,000. This is considered a class B felony and carries severe penalties. If convicted, potential consequences include a maximum prison sentence of 25 years, a probation period of 5 years, a fine, and restitution equivalent to the amount of fraudulently obtained benefits.
  • Welfare fraud in the second degree, defined in New York Penal Law section 158.20, is defined as intentionally engaging in fraudulent welfare activities and receiving benefits exceeding $50,000. It is classified as a class C felony, and if convicted, potential consequences include a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, a probation period of 5 years, a fine, and restitution equivalent to the amount of fraudulently obtained benefits.
  • Welfare fraud in the third degree, under New York Penal Law section 158.15, states that to be charged with this offense, two conditions must be met: intentionally engaging in fraudulent welfare activities and receiving benefits exceeding $3,000. It is categorized as a class D felony, and if convicted, potential consequences include a maximum prison sentence of 7 years, a probation period of 5 years, a fine, and restitution equivalent to the amount of fraudulently obtained benefits.
  • Lastly, welfare fraud in the fourth degree, as described in New York Penal Law section 158.10, involves intentionally engaging in fraudulent welfare activities and receiving benefits exceeding $1,000. It is classified as a class E felony, and if convicted, potential consequences include a maximum prison sentence of 4 years, a probation period of 5 years, a fine, and restitution equivalent to the amount of fraudulently obtained benefits.

Welfare Fraud Offense Fraudulent Benefits Threshold Classification Potential Consequences
First Degree Exceeding $1,000,000 Class B Felony Maximum prison sentence of 25 years, probation period of 5 years, fine, and restitution equivalent to fraudulently obtained benefits.
Second Degree Exceeding $50,000 Class C Felony Maximum prison sentence of 15 years, probation period of 5 years, fine, and restitution equivalent to fraudulently obtained benefits.
Third Degree Exceeding $3,000 Class D Felony Maximum prison sentence of 7 years, probation period of 5 years, fine, and restitution equivalent to fraudulently obtained benefits.
Fourth Degree Exceeding $1,000 Class E Felony Maximum prison sentence of 4 years, probation period of 5 years, fine, and restitution equivalent to fraudulently obtained benefits.

Which Benefit Fraud Does HRA Go After?

Such investigations can start from welfare fraud, Medicaid fraud, daycare voucher fraud, snap benefits/ food stamp fraud, or NYSCHA Fraud. 

What to do if you receive an HRA Bureau of Fraud Investigations Interview Letter?

If you receive an HRA Bureau of Fraud Investigations Interview Letter, you should not ignore it. You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand the allegations against you and protect your rights during the investigation.

What to Do If You Are Contacted by an HRA Fraud Investigator?

If you are contacted by an HRA fraud investigator, you should not speak to them without an attorney present. You have the right to remain silent, and you should exercise that right. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the investigation and protect your rights.

What to Do If You Have Been Arrested and Charged for Welfare Fraud?

If you have been arrested and charged for welfare fraud, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges against you and build a strong defense.

The Million Dollar Question: What Happens in Such Investigations and Are They Going to Arrest You?

In our experience handling numerous such cases, one of the main factors in whether these cases are sent to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution is if the individual made statements to the investigator and/ or provided them with documents. The importance of hiring an attorney right away cannot be overstated. In many instances, we have successfully guided clients through such investigations with no criminal charges being brought against them and gotten them extended, interest-free repayment plans on the alleged balance owed. Similarly, we have defended and resolved favorably numerous cases where clients hired us after arrest. 

If you’re facing concerns regarding potential welfare fraud charges, you don’t have to navigate the complex legal landscape alone. At Lebedin Kofman LLP, our experienced New York City fraud attorneys can assess your case and guide you through the intricacies of welfare fraud laws. Whether you’re dealing with felony charges or require guidance in navigating the legal system, our dedicated team can fight to protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome for your situation. Contact us today to access the support you need when facing welfare fraud allegations.

Criminal Defense

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