Welfare fraud in Nevada occurs when a person intentionally misrepresents or omits material information in an effort to obtain welfare benefits to which he or she is not entitled. Depending on the case, welfare fraud can be prosecuted in state or federal court, or both.
A single act of welfare fraud is a usually prosecuted as a category E felony in Nevada. A first-time offense qualifies for a probationary sentence in most cases. Otherwise, the judge can order:
- 1 - 4 years in Nevada State Prison, and/or
- up to $5,000 in fines
If the defendant is convicted on federal charges, the penalties may include hefty fines and time in Federal Prison depending on the offense.
Standard defenses in NRS 422A cases include taking the position that:
- The government made a clerical error,
- The defendant had no intention to defraud, and/or
- The police conducted an unlawful search and seizure
In many cases, Nevada prosecutors are open to plea bargaining charges down to a more minor offense or even a dismissal.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is welfare fraud in Nevada?
- 2. How do I fight the charges?
- 3. Can I go to jail?
- 4. Can I get my case sealed?
- 5. Will I get deported?
Nevada's legal definition of "welfare fraud" is extremely broad and encompasses dozens of possible offenses committed by benefits recipients and applicants. Just a few of the more common crimes include the following:
- A welfare applicant making false statements in order to receive benefits
- A welfare applicant using a fake ID in order to receive benefits
- A welfare recipient not reporting all their real property or valuable possessions that could offset the benefits
- A welfare recipient secretly accepting benefits from more than one state
- A welfare recipient not reporting income or other monies they have received that could offset her benefits, or make her ineligible
- A welfare recipient not reporting when a child or other dependent leaves the home
- A welfare recipient accepting benefits they are no longer entitled to receive
Welfare office employees can face fraud allegations as well. This typically occurs if they input incorrect information in order to give benefits to an ineligible applicant or to deny benefits to an eligible one.1
Note that the term "welfare" comprises various state and federal need-based programs, such as:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) a.k.a. food stamps,
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance,
- The Program for Child Care and Development, and
- State Supplementary Assistance2
Nevada's Division of Welfare and Supportive Services of the Department manages and administers these public assistance programs.
1.1 Federal crimes
Welfare fraud can be both a state as well as a federal crime.3 Depending on the particularities of the case, the FBI typically charges welfare fraud suspect with such fraud offenses as the federal crime of mail fraud and/or the federal crime of wire fraud.
In practice, most criminal cases are prosecuted in either state or federal court. But it is legal for a suspect to face charges in both courts for the same alleged offense.4
Common defense strategies used to fight allegations of defrauding the Welfare Department include:
- clerical error
- lack of fraudulent intent
- illegal search and seizure
The prosecution bears the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the attorney can show the prosecutor that there is insufficient evidence to meet this high standard or proof, the case may be dismissed.
2.1. Clerical error
Like any bureaucracy, the welfare department is a slow-moving, understaffed agency that makes mistakes. Reno criminal defense attorney Michael Becker provides an example of how a government error can result in criminal charges for a welfare applicant:
Example: Ava applies for welfare in Las Vegas. By accident, her welfare caseworker inputs the wrong salary, and Ava starts receiving more money that she is entitled to. But Ava committed no crime because the caseworker committed the error, and Ava was unaware of this error or that she was receiving more money that she should have.
Useful evidence in situations like the above example would be the caseworker's records and the communications between the welfare applicant and the agency. Once the prosecutor sees that the mistake likes with the government and not the applicant, the case should be dismissed.
2.2. Lack of fraudulent intent
Violating NRS 422A is a "specific intent" crime. This means that no defendant should be convicted unless he/she had the intent to defraud. Therefore, a typical defense is that the defendant did not deliberately try to deceive anyone. Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Castillo provides an example:
Example: Catherine applies for welfare in Henderson. By accident, she types one too few zeroes so it appears Catherine is earning ten times less than what she really earns. If caught, Catherine may be arrested and booked at the Henderson Detention Center for violating NRS 422A. But if the defense attorney can show that Catherine made an innocent mistake, the charges should be dropped.
Some Nevada judges may go easy on distressed welfare applicants such as Catherine in the above example. The welfare system is very daunting and requires confusing paperwork, so courts expect that law-abiding people may commit unintentional errors.
2.3. Illegal search
Prosecutors amass evidence through police searches and seizures. If the police may have performed an illegal search (such as by not getting a search warrant when one was necessary), the defense attorney would file a motion to suppress evidence with the court.
If the court grants the motion, all the illegally obtained evidence will be excluded from the case.5 And then the D.A. may have no choice but to dismiss the case for lack of proof.
Nevada welfare fraud offenses are typically punished as a category E felony. A first-time offense is often probationable, meaning that the defendant may be able to avoid jail as long as he/she pays a fine and completes other sentencing terms.
Otherwise, the judge may impose the following punishment for welfare fraud:
- one to four (1 - 4) years in prison, and
- repayment of any welfare benefits illegally obtained, and
- up to $5,000 in fines6
The defendant may also be ineligible for future welfare benefits.
3.1. Federal penalties
Below are the sentences for federal crimes that may be charged in welfare fraud cases.
Mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341)
Wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343)
Bank fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344)
Interstate transportation of funds obtained by fraud (18 U.S.C. § 2314)
False statements to a financial institution (18 U.S.C. § 1814 )
False statements to a government agency (18 U.S.C. § 1001)
Identity theft (18 U.S.C. § 1028)
Aggravated identity theft (18 U.S.C. § 1028A)
Use of false name or address in mailings (18 U.S. Code § 1342)
Use of a false social security number (42 U.S.C. § 408a)
A person convicted of a category E felony for violating NRS 422A can usually petition for a Nevada record seal two (2) years after the case ends.7 But if the case gets dismissed (so there is no conviction), the record seal process can begin right away.8
Note that federal criminal convictions can never be sealed (with some exceptions).
Yes, the Department of Homeland Security has indicated that welfare fraud is a deportable crime.9 Therefore, Non-U.S. citizens arrested for NRS 422A charges in Nevada should retain an attorney skilled in both immigration law and criminal defense. The attorney would try to convince the prosecutor to either drop the charges or change them to non-removable offenses.
Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.
Call a Nevada criminal defense lawyer...
If you have been arrested for welfare fraud in Nevada, contact our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation. We may be able to negotiate the charges down, or else we will fight zealously for a "not guilty" trial verdict.
Arrested in California? Go to our article on California welfare fraud law.
Arrested in Colorado? Go to our article on Colorado welfare fraud law.
We represent clients throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight, and Tonopah.
- NRS 422A; What is Welfare fraud in the State of Nevada?, Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.
- NRS 422A.065.
- 42 U.S. Code § 608a.
- Bartkus v. Illinois, 359 U.S. 121 (1959).
- See Fourth Amendment.
- NRS 422A.700.
- NRS 179.245.
- NRS 179.255.
- Gaynor D. Daleno, DHS memo: Suspects of welfare fraud, other crimes are deportable, The Guam Daily Post (February 22, 2017).