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RobertJDFL, Lawyer
Category: Criminal Law
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Can I go to jail for unemployment fraud?

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Can I go to jail for unemployment fraud?

Good evening, thank you for your question.

While unemployment fraud can result in criminal prosecution, it is unlikely, especially if this is a first offense. Rather, the Employment Development Department (EDD), which regulates unemployment, would seek to recover the monies from you as well as asses a penalty.

Unemployment fraud occurs when you knowingly give false information or withhold information and receive benefits that you should not have received. With a fraud overpayment, you are assessed a penalty in the amount of 30 percent of the amount of the overpayment and a false statement disqualification of 5 to 23 weeks. Fraud over-payments and penalties must be repaid.

If you do not repay your overpayment promptly, EDD will deduct the money owed from your future weekly unemployment or state insurance benefits. This process is referred to as an offset. EDD may also:

  • Reduce or totally withhold your state income tax refunds, lottery winnings, or any other money owed to you by the state.
  • File a civil claim against you in court, charge you court costs and interest, and record a lien on your property.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

Well, I had just called them last week letting them know what I had done and why as well as I would pay them back. But, it is thousands. I never used the money, and I still have one check from them that I had never cashed. They told me to write void on the check and mail it back. They also told me that there is mail coming my way. Will I still go to jail?

I cannot tell you whether you will go to jail or not - no one can. I cannot even guarantee that the EDD will seek criminal prosecution of you, and even if they did, that a judge would sentence you to jail if you were convicted.

Can the EDD seek criminal prosecution against you? Yes. Is it likely? No. They are more interested in getting their money back, not possibly sending a person to jail. I strongly suspect that what you will receive in the mail is information from the EDD seeking repayment of monies received and assessing a financial penalty against you. They may offer you a repayment plan.

If you do not repay the money, then the EDD will go after the money either by going after things like your state income tax returns, or suing you civilly and seeking a judgment against you.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

If the EDD decides to press charges and summons me to court, what should I do? I never had any intentions on keeping the money. I just made a mistake. I thought my current job was going to be another temporary job. I did call the EDD to let them know I had found a permanent job, and wanted to give their money back, if they wanted it.

Will they still pursue a criminal investigation against me?

If they do, how long will that process take before I am notified about it?

Will my current company be in trouble for what I did?

They have no knowledge of what I have done. Has anyone you have dealt with been sent to prison or faced charges and probation for this type of situation?

First of all, it's only fraud if you KNOWINGLY withhold information or give false information. If you honestly believed you would be working a temp job, and when you found out, called EDD when you learned otherwise, that's not fraud.

If you face criminal charges, you need to speak with a criminal defense attorney -or, if you can't afford one, ask the court at your first court appearance to appoint you a public defender. California unemployment insurance fraud may qualify as a misdemeanor if the amount of the alleged fraud is $950 or less. When this is the case, a conviction subjects you to up to six months in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.

If the amount exceeds $950, the crime is a wobbler. If the amount exceeds $95 and you are convicted only as a misdemeanor your potential jail time increases to a maximum one-year sentence and your fine increases to a maximum $10,000.

If the amount of the alleged fraud exceeds $95 or exceeds $950 in any 12-month consecutive period and prosecutors may elect to charge you with this offense as a felony. If so, a conviction carries a

  • two, three, or five-year California State prison sentence, and either
  • a maximum $50,000 fine, OR
  • double the amount of the fraud, whichever is greater.

Misdemeanors must be brought within 1 year of the alleged crime having been committed, and felony charges must be brought within 3 years.

Your employer would not be responsible or in trouble for your actions.

I haven't dealt specifically with unemployment fraud, but I've seen numerous cases of welfare fraud (which is a felony in Florida) and don't know of a single one that was criminally prosecuted. Also, among the criminal defense lawyers I've spoken to, we've never discussed these types of cases, which is why I say that the government is more interested in getting their money back, not sending you to jail.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

The amount I accumulated over three months is between $4,000 and $5,000. I am worried that this will be a felony charge. Also, I did apply for unemployment stating that I was looking for a job, and had not found one nor was I paid for those weeks when I was job searching.

I have read on this site that someone was summons to court for a similar reason in Philadelphia, but I am in California.

I did call the EDD to let them know what I did and wanted to pay them back. I don't know if that will help or cause damage to myself in court. What's the worse possibility that I could be facing knowing what I have done even though I have tried to make contact with them to make things right?

Given the dollar amount, it could be charged as a felony, meaning you could face state prison time, a fine, or both. But an attorney may also be able to reduce that to a misdemeanor, too. Also, jail time is unlikely for a first time offender.

Every case is different, and you don't know the facts of what one person did, how much they allegedly took, etc. Just because one person in one state (or even in California) goes to jail for unemployment fraud doesn't mean everyone does. The fact that EDD said they would be sending you something in the mail is, in my opinion, information regarding you having to repay any overpayment, plus a penalty. They wouldn't tell you this if they were going to report it to the police.

I understand you being concerned, but there's not much you can do at this point and worrying doesn't help you. If you are charged with a crime, talk to a lawyer, and deal with it at that time.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

By me calling the California EDD office last week, and confessing what I have done as well as wanting to give them all the money back will this help me or hurt me more?

I don't know what you said to them exactly, so it's hard to comment. Telling them you were overpaid would hurt you less than calling up and saying you stole the money-and even if that is what you said, I'm not sure you could count that as a confession because I don't necessarily see this as a case of knowingly falsifying or withholding information.

I also think it's premature to be thinking this way when you don't know whether they will actually seek criminal charges -you're getting way ahead of yourself before you need to.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

I first told them that I was over-paid and that I have been working for the last month and was still receiving unemployment. I told them I was because I thought this job was only going to be temporary. But, once I found out the job was going to be permanent, I wanted to pay them back their money that I had received while working. What is your whole take on this situation?

I am guessing the letter that the EDD is sending is an audit letter, and they might contact my current employer and ask for proof of salary. Once they do that, the EDD might take legal actions based on what I told the operator. But, the operator did tell me that they are not going to my house to make an arrest.

My take is that you didn't commit fraud, this was non-fraud. You may have delayed longer than you should have in contacting EDD, but I highly doubt you will be arrested. I think the letter you are getting is going to demand repayment of the overpayments you received, and probably a penalty as well. But, they may be willing to accept a payment plan from you (even if the letter doesn't say they will, it's worth calling and asking if they'd take payments). I don't think they will take legal action (like a civil lawsuit) against you unless you decide not to pay at all.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

During the time I worked I filed that I wasn't working and was looking for a job. When I filed that I wasn't receiving money, but instead I had found a job and was working and getting paid. It was a horrible mistake I made simply because I was stressed due to thinking that I was going to get laid off again.

Right, it was a mistake -not intentional. You didn't knowingly withhold information from EDD. Plus, it is possible to work and get unemployment in some cases (like when a person who was unemployed goes back to work part-time or on a limited basis). I really don't think you will be charged criminally; I don't know how many other ways to say it.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

What if I falsified on the claims form? The intention was not to steal because in my mind I was thinking that I would call and let EDD know my reason for doing this. I was working full-time and getting paid $4,000 a month. When I received my raise after 2 1/2 months, I began to try and contact the EDD many times to report what I had done.

I still don't believe it criminal because your intention wasn't to knowingly steal from EDD. You may have misunderstood how unemployment operated, or how long you were eligible, etc., but that's different than someone who purposely and intentionally files a claim to receive benefits that they know they aren't entitled to.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

How can I prove this in court, even though I did falsified documents? How will I prove my intention besides calling EDD and letting them know what I did? Will they investigate on my computer and have interviews with my company and myself before filling charges? Or will I just find out from a letter that I am being summons to court when and if they decide to press charges?

You don't have to prove it -the prosecutor has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (which is a very high standard).

I doubt they would investigate your company first. You would either receive a summons in the mail informing you to go to court, or, it is possible that you could be arrested, if charged with a felony.

Again, the chances of that happening I think are extremely rare. I would wait to see what information you receive from the EED before you really start to panic. I realize that is difficult, but I think you are making yourself worry for no reason.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

I am panicking without any proof if they are going to charge me with this crime. Thank you for your time and patience. I appreciate your information a lot!

You're welcome. Thank you.

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