Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Welfare Fraud : The State v. You and What You Should Know

Public Assistance Fraud is a serious crime with misdemeanor and felony penalties depending on how much is alleged to have been pilfered from Florida's entitlement programs. If you have been charged with violating s. 414.39, Florida Statutes (2013) you need to know that unfortunately the odds are highly stacked against you.

Mistakes by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF)

DCF, like other government agencies, makes a lot of mistakes. The problem is that as an individual those mistakes is difficult to discover. Here is why:

Imagine that you have been charged with failing to report a change of circumstance (leading to the public assistance fraud) charge. You swear you remember reporting faithfully. When you obtain your records from DCF you notice that the records of other individuals are in your file, but you cannot find any evidence of your report. Why? That's obvious, they misplaced your report in somebody else's file.

It becomes easy to prove that DCF put the wrong information in your file, but that's not proof that you reported or that DCF placed your report in somebody else's file. The only way to prove that is to find your report in the other file. But imagine the costs of having DCF thumb through all of their files to catch that mistake, it's not going to happen.

So your sole piece of evidence is proof that DCF could have made an error and misfiled your report. Standing before a jury with that is hardly comforting. 

To eliminate misfiling errors and to speed up efficiency, DCF now allows communication online. A demonstrable error has already been observed by this firm when a business account report that was filed online could not be found by staff during a phone interview. This opens up the possibility that reports are simply not being processed through the web site and somehow end up floating out in internet-limbo.

The State's Track Record on Public Assistance Fraud

Making matters worse is that the State has a stellar track record for convicting people charged with fraudulently obtained public benefits. In 2010, 291 individuals decided to go to trial. 283 were convicted, 8 were acquitted. That's a 97.3% conviction rate. Dr. Charles J. Mullin, Statistical Analysis of Fraud in the 
Florida Food Assistance Program (Nov. 28, 2012). Also in 2010, 2856 individuals fought the State in administrative disqualification hearings. 2811 convictions and waivers obtained, only 45 acquittals. Id. That's an average 98.4% win rate for the State. Id.

Based on these numbers alone (without the self-serving optimism of defense attorneys) your average chance of winning against the State of Florida is 2.15%. Now genius defense attorneys may be able to show better results but most of us are not geniuses. If you encounter an attorney that claims to be a genius, I would recommend you ask the following questions:

- How many public benefits fraud cases have you defended?
- How many did you bring to trial?
- What is your percentage of wins?

Remember that the numbers above don't take into consideration the skills of the prosecutor or defense attorneys, the temperament of the judge, or the fickleness of the jury. Despite the wide variety of circumstances the State walks away with win after win after win.

The Good News

There's good news? Yes... sort of. Apparently the State's general attitude is to simply recoup the money they "lost" paying out benefits to you and avoid trial. This is amazing considering how easy it is for them to win these cases. With that in mind it is now more important for you to deal realistically with an attorney who understands that your best interests (97.3% of the time) are served by avoiding a conviction and agreeing to paying back the state.

Why is this true? Generally speaking it would cost more (on top of what the state already claims to have lost) to incarcerate you instead of just getting you to pay the money to the State. So there is a strong incentive to push people into what is called pre-trial intervention. While this is hardly justice since both the innocent and guilty are caught up in the system, it is (97.3%) of the time in your best interest to take the deal.

If you or somebody you know, or if you are a DCF worker who would like to provide evidence of errors happening within the system, contact the Law Offices of Jimmy Allen Davis, P.L. at the (386) 873-8422 or email PDF scans of your evidence to jimmy.davis.esq@gmail.com  Feel free to do so anonymously. It's very important that society expose the problems within the DCF - State Attorney Office alliance.