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Zoey_ JD
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 16096
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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My girlfriend (who i do not current live with) has a meeting

Customer Question

My girlfriend (who i do not current live with) has a meeting with PA welfare for fraud.. She had lost her job and then got hired at a new job in Feb. 2009 she called into the office and tried to get in touch with her case worker, and couldn't so she ask the clerk what should she do the clerk said send in 6 weeks worth of pay stubs which she did! But everything stayed the same so her 6 month review came up she said nothing change (due to her already sending her pay stubs in earlier as stated) then comes november and she has to go to the eye doctor and asks about her coverage! A week later she gets a phone call from her case work saying she lost her benifits (but he said he never receive the pay stubs) and now she has to go see a fraud investagtor... what does she do now??

I must say NO Record and she doesn't need this either... We just want to pay it and it go away!!!
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 3 years ago.
Jacustomer,

In Pennsylvania, unemployment fraud is prosecuted and each day of improperly earned benefits can be punishable by up to $1,000 in cash and by up to 30 days in jail. Here is the link to the Pennsylvania Unemployment Laws. Article VIII contains the penalty provisions. (See link to statute).

Unfortunately, even if your girlfriend meets with unemployment and agrees to pay back every cent and then immediately does, that would not prevent the state from prosecuting this offense. That is because paying back the money doesn't make the illegal act go away, and it's always in the government's interest to discourage benefits fraud. States do prosecute this kind of charge vigorously. It is likely that if the state has already earmarked this as a fraud issue, the matter will be turned over to the DAs Office, and it would be up to the DA to determine whether or not to prosecute your girlfriend.

She should not meet with Unemployment about this issue unless she brings a criminal lawyer with her.



Edited by FranL on 10/2/2010 at 10:34 PM EST
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Sorry but it's not unemployment it's welfare!
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 3 years ago.
Hi,

Sorry bout that!

The legal principles and advice are the same regardless of the type of benefit frauds. The government can choose to prosecute regardless of how quickly your girlfriend makes restitution.

The penalties are different, however. They still would be felony charges. I have unexpected company right now who is leaving soon. I will find the relevant statutes for you shortly.
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 3 years ago.
Hi,

Sorry about the delay, My daughter dropped by. As I've said, these matters can be prosecuted whether a person repays or not, so your girlfriend should absolutely have a lawyer with her when she attends the meeting.

A fraud charge would be a felony in the 3rd degree in Pennsylvania, which would carry a possibility of jail time, and even though it's pretty standard that if the person has a clean record, there would be an offer involving probation if your girlfriend didn't want to fight the charges (she may have a case, and that would be something she and her laywer could discuss) she could end up with a felony record for the sort of offense that could really harm her professionally. So it would be important to make sure that her rights are protected at a meeting or hearing.

Here's a link to the civil restitution hearing procedures'which explains the paying back and the procedure for determining fraud.

Here are the criminal welfare fraud penalties.

Note that these are state penalites. Welfare fraud can also be prosecuted Federally, which is one more reason to make sure she has a criminal lawyer before she talks to anyone about what she did or didn't do with regard to her benefits.

Good luck!
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I just don't understand she did what she was told and now this.. she will be labeled a crimial and felon over some state working not doing his job... Why would they punish her for a mistake on both parties... There has to be a law to protect her or something..

Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 3 years ago.
Hi,

I don't know that your girlfriend definitely will be prosecuted for fraud. I am only saying that the government has the right to do so, whether she pays back the money or not. The civil statute involves restitution for the monies owed. The penal law punishes the unlawful act.

To be on the safe side, she should retain a lawyer and talk to him in full about what happened before sitting down with the Welfare people. You were the one to have mentioned that she has a meeting "for fraud." I don't know whether that means they have already made a determination that fraud has likely occurred, or whether this meeting is entirely investigative in nature. I do know that she should have a lawyer because she would want to maximize whatever protection the law affords her.

If what she did was indeed a mistake, that would be a defense to a fraud, but it does not mean that she still couldn't be charged and prosecuted. It would just mean that if her defense held, she couldn't be found guilty. The standard for an arrest and a prosecution only requires something called probable cause -- just a reasonable belief that a crime may have been committed and that a particular person might have committed it. So if Welfare feels that this may not have been a mistake, they will turn the matter over to the DA's office to see whether or not the DA feels so too. If the DA thinks there's probable cause to believe she might have committed a fraud, it will press charges.

A conviction, however, is something else again, as a conviction requires proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, And fraud requires the intent to do something dishonest, which you and your girlfriend believe she did not have.


Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Hi

Here is what the letter says

 

I am scheduling an appointment with you to meet and discuss an alleged public benefits fraud overpayment in the food stamp program(s). If you do not attend this meeting, the Office of Inspector General will pursue whatever action is deemed appropriate under law.

 

 

and then it has the meeting time..

 

the even crazier thing about this is she received this on Thursday 9-30-10 and her meeting is 10-7-10.. very short notice to really do anything...

 

She is scared and expects the worst... Do you recommend a Paid or Public defender..

Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 3 years ago.
Hi,

She'd be crazy if she weren't scared, even if she didn't do a thing wrong. Maybe even especially if she didn't do a thing wrong. That's why she should not walk in there without first having talked the whole situation through with a lawyer, who may want to go with her.

She's not going to be eligible for a public defender unless she is indigent, and even then her right to a free lawyer does not attach until she's brought before the judge at her arraignment and the court assigns one to her. So at least for this proceeding, she would have to pay for a lawyer.

But she could get a one time inexpensive referral ($50 or less) to a criminal lawyer for a half-hour consultation by contacting the Pennsylvania bar associaton's lawyer referral service. They will guarantee her a referral to a prescreened active member of the state bar in good professional standing, and there are no strings attached. Should he tell her that she can do without the lawyer at the hearing or should she simply not like the lawyer, she would not have to retain him after the half hour was up. He ought to be able to offer her more reassurance than an expert here can do, and accompany her if necessary to the meeting.


Edited by FranL on 10/3/2010 at 2:48 AM EST

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