Why Being Accused of Government Benefits Fraud is a Big Deal

State and federal governments lose billions of dollars each year due to fraud. Governments seek to recoup money lost from fraud by prosecuting the perpetrators of fraudulent schemes. Government benefits fraud is a serious crime, and the penalties for anyone convicted of fraud can be very steep. If you are the target of a fraud investigation, or have been charged with fraud, you should hire a lawyer as soon as possible.

COVID-19 Relief Fraud

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the federal government guaranteed loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP granted nearly $800 billion worth of forgivable loans to pandemic-impacted businesses. More than 11 million businesses received loans. However, it is now coming to light that the PPP was widely abused. By one estimate, 15% of PPP loans could be fraudulent.

In a February 2022 press release, the Department of Justice (DOJ) notes that since the start of the CARES Act, more than 150 people have been prosecuted for fraudulently obtaining loans. Depending on the case and the charges brought, anyone accused of PPP fraud can face fines and prison time, in addition to having to pay back the funds and forfeit any assets purchased with loan proceeds.

SNAP Fraud

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program fraud has increased over time to a rate of around 1%. And expanded benefits under President Biden makes the program a more tempting fraud target.

SNAP violations can result in program disqualification, criminal penalties, and imprisonment.

Roughly 1.5 million Ohio residents receive SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps. State authorities are responsible for verifying eligibility requirements and ensuring that benefits are used properly. Because SNAP is a federal program, though, instances of fraud—such as fraudulently applying for benefits and other intentional violations of program rules—can be referred for federal prosecution. A Dayton woman was recently sentenced to two years in federal prison for SNAP fraud.

Not only SNAP recipients, but also businesses, can commit SNAP violations. For example, a business can accept SNAP benefits for non-eligible items. At a minimum, SNAP violations can result in temporary or permanent disqualification from the program. Criminal penalties and imprisonment are possible as well.

Ohio Unemployment Fraud

A state audit last year revealed $3.8 billion in fraud and overpayments in Ohio’s unemployment system. The auditors blamed an outdated system that was not prepared to handle the huge influx of unemployment claims during the pandemic. State prosecutors began filing charges over pandemic-related unemployment fraud in March 2021.

The penalties for unemployment fraud include a fine of up to one-quarter of the total amount collected through fraud. Some cases can result in criminal charges. Unemployment fraud most commonly occurs when people collect benefits while still working or after returning to work. If you were overpaid benefits amid the pandemic and applied for a waiver to keep the benefits, this does not count as fraud and you may not even have to pay them back since the state is waiving some overpayments.

Facing Government Benefits Fraud Charges? You Need a Lawyer.

Graham & Graham’s criminal defense lawyers defend Ohioans accused of fraud, either by the federal government or the State of Ohio. We can also help with appeals for those already convicted. Trying to fight a case against the government without a lawyer is almost impossible. The decisions you make and the things you say early on can make or break your case. If you’re dealing with government benefits fraud charges of any type, don’t wait to get legal help. Contact Graham & Graham right away and let us start planning your defense.

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