The food stamps program was initiated by the American government back in 1939, which was designed for the low income earning a portion of the population. The purpose of this system was to ensure that the low salary populace acquired sufficient nourishment irrespective of the increasing pressure on the cost of foodstuff among other lifestyle difficulties. It has been the government’s contention that an adequately nourished population would achieve a more effective workforce, coupled with an enhanced lifestyle. Ever since, the food stamp plan has been a prevailing setup in the United States, albeit having moved through variable stages as time goes by.
Just like with any other benefit plans, there have been numerous instances of food stamp frauds, an offense that is punishable in the eyes of the law. However, you could be accused wrongly of a food stamp offense, or the concerned party could be totally unaware of their eligibility for the food stamp benefits. In such instances, it would be prudent to seek legal assistance from New York criminal defense attorneys for the purpose of safeguarding your case.
What Constitutes Food Stamp Fraud?
Food stamp fraud refers to the intentional misuse of the food stamp program (SNAP) for personal gain. This offense is often committed either by the participating retailers or the intended recipients of the food stamps themselves. While snap is a federal program, it is administered and overseen by the individual states, which imply that the penalties for this offense could vary from state to state. Basically, depending on the severity or nature of your offense, the penalties could range from a mere disqualification from the program and on worst scenarios—you could face fines or jail time.
What Happens when Suspected of Food Stamp Fraud?
Typically, if you get suspected of a food stamp fraud, your case will be handled at the state or local level by the Social Services Agency. Upon suspecting fraudulent activities on your part, the agency will often refer your case to the District Attorney for further investigation in establishing whether criminal charges will be filed against you. If the D.A declines to file a criminal lawsuit, the agency will resort into processing it as a civil matter. This will entail charging you with Intentional Program Violation, (IPV), for which they will schedule a hearing for the purpose of verifying whether the IPV occurred.
The successful establishment of IPV guilt will automatically lead to disqualification from the program for a certain period, after which you will be needed to pay back on each overage. If your entire family is eligible for benefits, your disqualification will not affect them, and they will continue receiving benefits. Repeated IPVs will lead to permanent disqualification from the program.
In the vent that the agency and the D.A produce sufficient evidence against you, and the offense is perceived sufficiently severe to warrant criminal charges, you could formally be charged with criminal food stamp fraud. Being found guilty will not only lead to automatic disqualification from the program, but you will also be fined and possibly get imprisoned. In cases of grave or extreme fraud, you could face fines that are as high as $100,000 or more while the prison time could be as high as 25 years.
What to Do
If you are under suspicion and investigation for food stamp fraud, you will want to secure the legal assistance of an experienced attorney to guide you through the process. This is because the agency and the D.A will have to prove that you actually intended to commit fraud. Your lawyer could contact them well in advance and meet with the investigator assigned to the case for the purpose of working out a settlement. Such a meeting would afford you an opportunity to agree to pay back any benefits you received while proving that you had no fraudulent intent when you applied for them and that there was a valid financial need.
If your lawyer is unable to resolve the matter at the investigation level, they will help you with gathering the requisite documents and witnesses who will support your claim that you did not intentionally or willfully withhold, conceal, or misrepresent the required information with the sole intention of gaining benefits to which you were not entitled. If you lose the case at the administrative hearing, your lawyer will help you with setting up a plan for repaying any overages or benefits to which you were not entitled.
Unlike other areas of law, there are no recognized defenses for food stamp fraud offenses. It, therefore, follows that when faced with such allegations, your only recourse would be disputing them. This entails defending the case on the basis that there was no fraud committed. For instance, a retailer facing food stamp fraud charges must legitimize the transactions constituting the alleged fraud.
If you have been charged with food and stamp fraud, you should avoid talking to the police or prosecutor without having your attorney by your side. This is because what you say could be taken out of context and actually used against you. Hiring an attorney when pursuing your food stamp fraud case will allow a careful review of every aspect of the matter in determining whether there is sufficient evidence for everything you have been accused of. Your lawyer is also tasked with making efforts in discrediting any evidence that is not in your favor, and if you have acted without criminal intent, they will gather evidence and witnesses to prove that.