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Welfare Fraud Law, Penalty & Defense
WI 10980 Crimes

Information on the crime of welfare fraud, also called obtain public aid by misrepresentation, is found at California Welfare and Institutions Code 10980 (WI10980).

Note: There are several variations of welfare fraud crimes that may be charged depending on the particular set of facts that support the allegations. For example, WI 10980(c)(1) is charged where the dollar amount of the fraud is less than $950, whereas WI 10980(c)(2) is charged where the dollar amount of the fraud is more than $950, and so on. The different welfare fraud charges carry different punishments.

WI 10980 Law

In general, it is a crime to knowingly misrepresent your factual financial status or worth in order to receive welfare benefits. Most welfare fraud cases involve intentional misrepresentations or omissions of income or financial need on public forms that are signed under penalty of perjury, or failure to update any change in income or financial need after welfare benefits have been established.

Note: Welfare fraud includes knowingly and falsely representing information, or omitting information, to obtain health care, public aid, cash aid, WIC, food stamps, etc.

Example, if a mother declares that she does not live with another adult and that she is the sole financial supporter of her household and children, but in reality, dad lives with mom and helps support the children, then mom could be charged with welfare fraud under WI 10980 for her failure to declare all of her financial support upon receipt of welfare benefits. 

Note: The crimes of perjury (PC 118), commercial burglary (PC 459), forgery (PC 470), and counterfeiting, is commonly charged along with many WI 10980 charges (See below).

Welfare Fraud and Perjury: Welfare fraud crimes (WI 10980) and perjury crimes (PC 118) are often charged simultaneously. This is because it is an act of perjury every time the defendant signs a document, under penalty of perjury, that support his or her need for financial aid from the welfare office.

Welfare Fraud & Burglary: The district attorney might also file commercial burglary charges against the defendant in a welfare fraud case if the district attorney can establish that the defendant entered the welfare office with knowledge that he or she was going to commit fraud or theft of services while inside the welfare office.

Welfare Fraud and Forgery: The district attorney might also file forgery charges against the defendant in a welfare fraud case if the district attorney can establish that the defendant created a false document of legal significance in order to defraud the welfare office (i.e. fake paychecks, bank accounts, utility bills, etc.).

Multiple Counts: It is not uncommon to have multiple counts (allegations) of welfare fraud against a single defendant, or multiple counts of welfare fraud and other criminal charges against a single defendant. This is because every time the defendant signs a welfare form documents, while having knowledge of the false information in those documents, it is a separate offense of welfare fraud (WI 10980) and perjury (PC 118). The same is true with welfare fraud and burglary, welfare fraud and forgery, and welfare fraud and counterfeiting.

For example, if mom produces a counterfeit paycheck to the welfare office in order to receive cash aid, then mom could be charged with welfare fraud, counterfeiting, burglary, and perjury every time she produced a counterfeit paycheck to the welfare office (assuming mon produced those counterfeit paychecks on separate occasions).

Punishment & Sentencing

Jail Sentence: Welfare fraud charges are classified as either a felony or as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of felony welfare fraud the defendant could face up to three (3) years in jail. If found guilty of misdemeanor welfare fraud the defendant could face up to one (1) year in the county jail.

Jail Enhancements: WI10980 Laws provide for enhanced jail sentences if the amount of fraud exceeds a certain amount and that fraud occurred by electronic transfer. For example, per WI10980(h), there is an additional year of jail exposure if the defendant electronically and fraudulently transfers benefits in excess of $50,000 (WI10980(h)(A)), etc..

Probation Sentence: In some WI10980 cases, a probation sentence instead of an actual jail sentence may be allowed. A probation sentence is a period of supervision by either the court (misdemeanor probation, or a probation officer (felony probation). Whether or not a probation sentence is available in any welfare fraud or perjury case depends largely on the defendant's criminal history along with the sophistication level of the fraud.

 

Note: A probation sentence may be accompanied with some jail time, but generally any jail sentence that is made a part of a probation sentence is served by work release or electronic monitoring (house arrest) in WI 10980 cases.

PC 1107(h) Sentencing: If the defendant is convicted of welfare fraud pursuant to WI 10980(c)(1) or 10980(c)(2), and he or she is not granted a probation sentence, then the defendant will be sentenced to jail (as opposed to a state prison); however, any jail sentence related to WI 10980(c)(1) or 10980(c)(2) may be split (served partially out of jail on work release) or suspended (not served at all unless the defendant violates a term of his or her out of jail sentence). Whether or not the defendant has his or her jail sentence split or suspended depends on several factors.

Note: WI 10980 (Welfare Fraud) and PC 118 (Perjury) are not considered strikes under California's Three Strikes Sentences Law. Also, Welfare fraud and perjury charges are not considered violent or serious crimes as those terms are defined in California law. This means that if the defendant is convicted of either welfare fraud (WI 10980) or perjury (PC 118) he or she may earn up to fifty (50%) credit of any jail sentence if he or she is on his or her good behavior while in custody.

CIMT: Welfare fraud is considered a crime involving moral turpitude, which means the crime involves deceit o is otherwise inherently wrong. Arrests and convictions for CIMT can have collateral consequences for non-United States citizens and licensed professionals. Non-US citizens may be deported for convictions of CIMT and licensed professionals can lose a license to practice in a particular profession (i.e. lawyer, doctor, dentist, therapist, etc.).

In addition to any prison or jail punishment, if found guilty of welfare fraud, the defendant may face additional penalties, including: Firearm prohibition (for felony WI 10980 convictions), Restitution of the funds defrauded, loss of professional or occupation license (for doctors, dentist, lawyers, nurses, or anyone with a license issued by a California Commission, Board, or Bar), loss of immigration status (for non-U.S. citizens), penalty fines and fees, enhanced penalties for future violations, and more.

Note: If the defendant is convicted of welfare fraud, he or she can lose future welfare benefits.

WI 10980 Defenses

Every welfare fraud case is based upon different supporting facts and circumstances; therefore, every WI10980 case will call for a different defense. With that in mind, common defenses to welfare fraud (WI 10980) and perjury (PC 118) include: insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant knowingly included false information on welfare forms (or omitted information), mistake of facts as to the information that was provided to the welfare department, duress, necessity, statute of limitations (very limited in fraud cases), intoxication, insanity, lack of jurisdiction, coerced confessions, jury nullification, and more.

Overpayment Issues: If the defendant was overpaid in welfare benefits related to CalWorks or Calfresh, and the welfare department was in receipt of income verification information at the time of the overpayment, then the defendant might have a defense to any WI10980 violation. Some limitations may apply (WI10980 (j)(1)).

Post-Conviction Options: Post-conviction options related to welfare fraud include, but are not limited to, the following: appeal the conviction, expunged the welfare fraud conviction, petition the court for a certificate of rehabilitation, withdraw a guilty plea, and more.

Note: If the defendant was charged with either a felony or misdemeanor welfare fraud violation, but there was no prosecution for some reason, or there was as prosecution, but the charges were either later dismissed pursuant to PC 1385, or the defendant was found not guilty after a court or jury trial, then the defendant may move to have her welfare fraud arrest reports sealed and destroyed (See Seal & Destroy a Criminal Arrest Record).

If you or a loved one has been charged with welfare fraud, perjury, or illegally obtained public aid, or WI 10980(c)(1), 10980(c)(2), and more, contact our criminal defense attorneys today. There is no fee for initial in-office consultations. Call today!

909-913-3138​

Related Crimes

  • WI 10980(a) Obtain public aid by misrepresentation

  • WI 10980(c)(1) Unlawfully obtain public aid in amount less than $950

  • WI 10980(c)(2) Unlawfully obtain public aid in amount more than $950

  • WI 10980(g)(1) Multiple welfare fraud

  • PC118(A)-F False Affidavit As Perjury

Quick Reference​ Sheet

Crime: Unlawfully Obtain Public Aid (Welfare Fraud)

Code: WI 10980(c)(2)

Wobbler: Yes. WI 10980(c)(2) is a wobbler crime. This means that WI 10980(c)(2) may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.

Incarceration:Felony WI 10980(c)(2) jail sentence range: 16 months, 2 or 3 years (if probation not granted). Misdemeanor jail sentence up to 1 year.

Probation: Probation is allowed in felony and misdemeanor WI 10980(c)(2) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by a court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​

Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.

PC 1170(h)): Yes. WI 10980(c)(2) is subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any jail or prison sentence may usually be:

  • Split (half in-custody / half out-of-custody)

  • Suspended (possibly never served)

  • Served in county jail (not state prison)

  • Note: Some limitations may apply

  • Note: Limitations may apply

Strike: WI 10980(c)(2) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.

CIMT: WI 10980(c)(2) is a crime involving moral turpitude, which means that an arrest or conviction could lead to the following:

  • Immigration problems

  • Professional Licensing problems

  • Impeachment on credibility

​​

Firearms: Felony WI 10980(c)(2) convictions prohibit a defendant from owning or possessing a firearm.

Bail: $25,000 (Felony); $5,000 (Misdemeanor) (San Bernardino)

Note: More penalties, direct or indirect, may apply. This WI10980(c)(2)-F info is created for that purpose only; accuracy not guaranteed. No attorney client relationship is formed by use of this info. If arrested or charged with a crime, including welfare fraud, contact a criminal defense lawyer without delay. 

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Welfare Fraud Laws (Abbrev.)

WI 10980(a): Any person who, willfully and knowingly, with the intent to deceive, makes a false statement or representation or knowingly fails to disclose a material fact in order to obtain aid under the provisions of this division or who, knowing he or she is not entitled thereto, attempts to obtain aid or to continue to receive aid to which he or she is not entitled, or to receive a larger amount than that to which he or she is legally entitled, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both imprisonment and fine.

WI 10980(b): Any person who knowingly makes more than one application for aid under the provisions of this division with the intent of establishing multiple entitlements for any person for the same period or who makes an application for that aid for a fictitious or nonexistent person or by claiming a false identity for any person is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment pursuant to PC 1170(h) for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine; or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.

WI 10980(c): Whenever any person has, willfully and knowingly, with the intent to deceive, by means of false statement or representation, or by failing to disclose a material fact, or by impersonation or other fraudulent device, obtained or retained aid under the provisions of this division for himself or herself or for a child not in fact entitled thereto, the person obtaining this aid shall be punished as follows:

 

  • If the total amount of the aid obtained or retained is nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or less, by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both imprisonment and fine (WI10980(c)(1)).

  • If the total amount of the aid obtained or retained is more than nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), by imprisonment pursuant to PC 1170(h)for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine; or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine (WI10980(c)(2)).

WI 10980(d): Any person who knowingly uses, transfers, acquires, or possesses blank authorizations to participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in any manner not authorized... with the intent to defraud is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment pursuant to PC 1170(h) for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine (Abbreviated).

WI 10980(e): Any person who counterfeits or alters or knowingly uses, transfers, acquires, or possesses counterfeited or altered authorizations to participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or to receive CalFresh benefits or electronically transferred benefits in any manner not authorized by the former federal Food Stamp Act of 1964... or the federal Food and Nutrition Act of 2008...or the federal regulations pursuant to the act is guilty of forgery (Abbreviated).

WI 10980(f): Any person who fraudulently appropriates CalFresh benefits, electronically transferred benefits, or authorizations to participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program with which he or she has been entrusted pursuant to his or her duties as a public employee is guilty of embezzlement of public funds.

WI 10980(g): Any person who knowingly uses, transfers, sells, purchases, or possesses CalFresh benefits, electronically transferred benefits, or authorizations to participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in any manner not authorized, or by the former federal Food Stamp Act of 1977,... or the federal Food and Nutrition Act of 2008,... is guilty of a misdemeanor if the face value of the benefits or the authorizations to participate is nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or less, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both imprisonment and fine, or (2) is guilty of a felony if the face value of the CalFresh benefits or the authorizations to participate exceeds nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), and shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to PC 1170(h) for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine, or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.

WI 10980(h)(1): If the violation of subdivision (f) or (g) is committed by means of an electronic transfer of benefits, in addition and consecutive to the penalties for the violation, or attempted violation, of those subdivisions, the court shall impose the following punishment:

  • If the electronic transfer of benefits exceeds fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), an additional term pursuant to PC 1170(h) of one year (WI10980(h)(1)(A)).

  • If the electronic transfer of benefits exceeds one hundred fifty thousand dollars ($150,000), an additional term pursuant to PC 1170(h) of two years (WI10980(h)(1)(B)).

  • If the electronic transfer of benefits exceeds one million dollars ($1,000,000), an additional term pursuant to PC 1170(h) of three years (WI10980(h)(1)(C)).

  • If the electronic transfer of benefits exceeds two million five hundred thousand dollars ($2,500,000), an additional term pursuant to PC 1170(h) of four years (WI10980(h)(1)(D)).

WI10980(h)(2): In any accusatory pleading involving multiple charges of violations of subdivision (f) or (g), or both, committed by means of an electronic transfer of benefits, the additional terms provided in paragraph (1) may be imposed if the aggregate losses to the victims from all violations exceed the amounts specified in this paragraph and arise from a common scheme or plan.

WI10980(i): A person who is punished by an additional term of imprisonment under another law for a violation of subdivision (f) or (g) shall not receive an additional term of imprisonment under subdivision (h).

WI 10980(j)(1): A person shall not be subject to criminal prosecution, under this section or under any other law, for an overpayment or overissuance of benefits, obtained under the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program... or the CalFresh program,... for any month in which the county human services agency was in receipt of any Income and Eligibility Verification System (IEVS) data match information indicating any potential for an overpayment or an overissuance and for which the county human services agency has not provided to the person a timely and adequate notice of action for the collection of the overpayment or the overissuance.