As criminal defense lawyers in Jacksonville, Florida, we handle a wide variety of fraud and theft cases in state and federal courts. A common criminal case we see is one where a person receives government benefits, such as unemployment benefits, without proper authorization. For instance, a person might misstate certain facts in the benefits application that allows him/her to receive the benefits when he/she really is not eligible under the law to receive them. Other times, a person may be entitled to receive the government benefits initially, but due to changed circumstances, such as a new job or a marriage that brings a second income into the household, the person is no longer eligible to receive the benefits but fails to disclose the new information to the government and keeps getting the benefits despite no longer being eligible.
In these cases, it is common for someone in the government benefits office to contact the recipient and alert him/her that there is a problem. If it is confirmed that the person is receiving benefits improperly, the government agency will often offer the recipient a deal by which he/she acknowledges the fraud and agrees to pay the unauthorized money back. This can be a good deal, but it can also create problems for the recipient. It can work out great if the recipient agrees to pay the money back over time, pays the money back according to the plan and then the government agency closes the case without ever alerting the police. However, it can be problematic if the person admits the fraud to the agency, agrees to a plan to pay the money back but then fails to make the payments for whatever reason. In this scenario, which is common, the government agency normally will then take the case to the police or the prosecutor in which case an arrest and felony charges are likely. Additionally, because the recipient has likely already acknowledged the fraud to the government agency and agreed to pay the money back, it becomes difficult to defend the criminal case by denying the fraud. Of course, as usual it depends on the circumstances of the particular case. We have also seen cases where a person has agreed to pay the money back, was making the payments according to the plan and law enforcement still became involved resulting in criminal charges.
Fortunately, the state and federal prosecutors are usually reasonable in these kinds of cases, as long as the amount of money is not too significant. They will normally consider the fact that the defendant tried to pay the money back, especially if there is a valid reason for not being able to repay the full amount. But, these are still serious felony charges, in most cases, and it is important that they are handled correctly. When they are handled correctly with an experienced criminal defense attorney, it is possible for the charges to get dropped or for the defendant to otherwise avoid a criminal conviction so his/her record can be cleared.