Public assistance fraud is a big deal these days. This category of criminal charges occurs when a Florida agency, such as the Department of Children and Families (DCF), Division of Financial Services, of Office of Economic Opportunity, suspects that you are receiving benefits to which you are not legally entitled.
The discovery of this alleged fraud happens when your application for benefits (which may be made many times per year since your financial situation may change over time) does not match records of your income, such as your W2 or any tax forms filed with the IRS.
Applications for benefits submitted to state agencies are subject to review. Periodically, applications may be flagged or given more scrutiny. Fraud investigators will compare your applications against tax forms, and may even take the investigation one step further by speaking with your present or former employer(s).
Once the agency suspects a fraudulent application, a fraud investigator will contact you either in person or by phone. This is the time to make no statements (this is your right), and contact a criminal defense attorney. You are under suspicion of having committed a crime.
The investigator will be eager to speak with you and you may get nervous and decide it is best to be forthcoming. However, remember that as the subject of a criminal investigation anything you say to the investigator will be evidence against you.
If you opt not to give a statement, the investigator will only have your documents upon which to rely. This may not be sufficient to prove fraud (which requires a showing of intent to commit fraud). Forgetting to include information about income or employment in a public assistance application could be a mistake, not a crime. If you give a statement and admit that you knew you made more than you disclosed when you submitted the application, you are admitting guilt of a crime.
Without your statement the investigator may have little to go on. Once a forensic accounting of you benefits is completed, a filing decision will be made.
In Broward County, the sheriff’s office will come out and arrest you. In Miami-Dade County, you will receive a notice to appear in the mail.
Charges may include fraud and/or grand theft.
If arrested, you will be expected to make restitution as a condition of a sentence. The restitution amount will be determined by the amount of benefits that you received when you were not eligible to receive them.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward. Eric Matheny represents clients in welfare fraud, food stamp fraud, and child care credit fraud cases.