Overwhelming Evidence

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An Alford plea is used in a criminal case when a defendant doesn’t want to plead guilty, but the evidence is so overwhelming that it is likely a judge or jury would find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A Virginia couple entered an Alford plea regarding welfare fraud charges. This was their second brush with the law regarding welfare fraud.

In the most recent case, the wife filled out an electronic application for Medicaid benefits for her two children. The application was reviewed and approved by her county ‘s Department of Social Services. But there was an important omission. She failed to report that her husband was still living at home and earning income. (At the time, the husband was reporting income of $2,400 per month to the Social Security Administration and he was also receiving Social Security income averaging about $1,180 per month.)Had the wife been honest on the welfare application, the couple ‘s combined income would not have entitled them to any benefits for their children.

On several occasions, the county Sheriff ‘s Office had four encounters with both the woman and her husband at their residence. Also, their certificates of titles were submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles, claiming that both lived in their home together. The wife also falsely stated multiple times that she was an in-home caregiver for a relative ,her mother-in-law. She signed a contract acknowledging that lying about the services provided constituted Medicaid fraud and submitting accurate timesheets was required. Surveillance proved that she claimed to provide personal care services when she did not. (There ‘s some overwhelming evidence.)

The woman ‘s lawyer argued that the couple had separated so that their children could qualify for Medicaid. Apparently, the husband was working in another location at the time, but the prosecution claimed that surveillance proved that the man and wife were together on weekends. The lawyer also argued that the woman was told by the Medicaid program that it did not matter what hours she worked, just so she got the correct number of hours in. (Really? Being a personal care provider isn’t about punching the clock.) And, since it was the woman ‘s mother-in-law that was the Medicaid beneficiary, it was not the wife who was committing Medicaid fraud. (Throwing your mother-in-law under the bus does not make for good family relations.)

The 32-year-old wife was charged with 14 counts of felony welfare fraud and two counts of felony welfare perjury. She was found guilty on five counts of misdemeanor welfare fraud and in exchange for her Alford Plea, the other 11 charges were dropped. She was sentenced to five years in jail with one month active and the rest suspended on the condition that she serve two years of supervised probation with no option for early release. She must also seek counseling and pay $7,119.99 in restitution.

The husband also entered an Alford Plea to misdemeanor welfare fraud. He was ordered to one year in jail with 11 months suspended and 30 days active on the condition that he serve two years of supervised probation with no option for early release. He must also pay $2,888.01 in restitution and seek counseling services.

As mentioned earlier, this couple was previously found guilty of welfare fraud and sentenced to one year of jail time, but suspended on the condition that they serve one year of supervised probation and pay $11,475 in restitution and a $500 fine. Now that the couple has been caught twice for the same offense let ‘s hope that both the couple and the government have each learned an important lesson.

Source: Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Patrick Springs woman convicted on welfare fraud charges,” published by The Martinsville Bulletin on October 25, 2016.

A woman charged with 14 counts of felony welfare fraud and two counts of felony welfare perjury entered an Alford plea on Monday in Patrick County. Under terms of an agreement with the prosecution, she was found guilty of five counts of misdemeanor welfare fraud and in exchange, the other 11 charges were dropped.

In an Alford plea, a defendant asserts innocence but admits that substantial evidence exists with which the prosecution likely could convince a judge or jury to find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.