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NY Penal Law § 158.25: Welfare Fraud in the First Degree

July 4, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

Because of the amount of welfare fraud that occurs, law enforcement has focused an increasing amount of resources to identifying and prosecuting those who receive public assistance benefits based on fraud. Welfare fraud is the crime of receiving public assistance benefits based on some type of fraudulent act, such as making false statements on an application for benefits, not reporting the receipt of another type of benefit such as workers compensation, or failing to report income. It is a type of theft. There are five welfare fraud offenses in New York.The particular charge you would face is based on the dollar amount of public assistance benefits you are accused of stealing from the government.  Welfare fraud in the first degree is the most serious welfare fraud offense. You could be prosecuted under New York Penal Law section 158.25 for welfare fraud in the first degree if you:

  1. Knowingly committed a fraudulent welfare act, and
  2. The value of the benefit funds you received from your activity was greater than $1,000,000

A “fraudulent welfare act” entails engaging in any of the following activities:

  1. Filing an application for a public benefit card in full awareness that the application contains false information,
  2. Assuming the identity of another person in order to get public assistance benefits, or
  3. Putting forth a false statement in order to fraudulently establish or maintain eligibility for public assistance benefits; or to get an increase or to prevent the reduction of public assistance benefits.

For the purposes of the welfare fraud legislation, the term “public assistance benefits” refers to money, property or services furnished by the federal, state or local government and administered by the Department of Social Services or by social services districts.

An Example

Luther and his girlfriend, Brenda, devised a scheme in which they made applications for numerous types of public assistance benefits under fake names and fraudulent identification documents. They each got approved for benefits in the names of 10 different fictitious people. They were successfully carried on the scheme for more than 5 years and raked in well over $1,000,000 in benefits each. Both Luther and Brenda could face prosecution for welfare fraud in the first degree on the basis of the dollar amount of the benefits they collected.

Offenses that are Related

Welfare fraud in the fifth degree: New York Penal Law section 158.05

Welfare fraud in the fourth degree: New York Penal Law section 158.10

Welfare fraud in the third degree: New York Penal Law section 158.15

Welfare fraud in the second degree: New York Penal Law section 158.20

Possible Defenses

In order to convict you of welfare fraud in the first degree the prosecutor has to be able to demonstrate that you fraudulently collected benefits that amounted to more than $1,000,000. If the prosecutor is unable to prove the amount of benefits that you received fraudulently, then the court is probably going to dismiss the charge against you. That fact notwithstanding, the prosecutor could alternatively charge you with welfare fraud in the second, third, fourth or fifth degree.


Since it is a class B felony, welfare fraud in the first degree is one of the most serious charges that you can find yourself up against. If you are convicted of welfare fraud in the first degree, your sentence might include a prison term of up to 25 years, a probation term of 5 years, and the payment of a fine. You would also be obligated to repay the funds that you received fraudulently.




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