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Coronavirus Relief Fraud & Crimes: Unemployment Insurance and Assistance

Well before millions of people sadly lost their jobs, healthcare and benefits due the COVID-19 pandemic, New York’s Unemployment Insurance and assistance was one of the main programs that assisted those who desperately needed help get back on their feet. However, not only are there many new policies and programs being implemented by the NYS Department of Labor and the federal government, many people find themselves in an unprecedented and unexpected situation amidst confusion, frustration and desperation. Because of this cocktail of chaos, honest mistakes, intentional misrepresentations and outright fraud has and will continue to occur.

Whether unemployment insurance fraud lawyers are counseled at the time an investigation is commenced or you have already been arrested, there are many crimes you may face for theft and other illegitimate filings including Grand Larceny, Forgery, and Offering a False Instrument for Filing. Although you always deserve the presumption of innocence, whatever charges are made against you, bet that District Attorneys throughout the City of New York and the suburban counties such as Westchester and Rockland will prosecute unemployment fraud to the fullest extent of the law.

What is Unemployment Assistance

In a nutshell, Unemployment Insurance is temporary income for eligible workers who lose their jobs, and who have not been fired for something of their own doing. To collect benefits, a person must be ready, willing, and able to work, and must also be actively looking for work during each week in which the individual is claiming benefits. Before a person can collect these kinds of benefits, they must apply to the unemployment office. After the initial application, an individual must continue to claim benefits during each week that the person is jobless and looking for work, including weeks while the person is waiting for the benefits to kick in. To qualify for these kinds of benefits, a person must have enough work hours and wages in covered employment, given that employers in New York pay contributions that fund the Unemployment Insurance system. It is not deducted from your paycheck.

Potential Crimes & Charges

Of the many different crimes and criminal statutes that could be applicable to fraud involved in Unemployment Insurance benefits, the most apparent and obvious may Grand Larceny, Forgery and Offering a False Instrument for Filing. All of these criminal charges and classes of charges, if convicted, would result in permanent criminal record that would have life-altering and largely irrevocable detrimental impacts on those accused. All of these crimes can, and will, be charged as a very serious felony punishable by years in state prison if available to a prosecutor. All of these crimes boil down to fraud and theft in one way or another, whether it is filing a written instrument with a public offense that contains false information (Offering a False Instrument for Filing), stealing money in excess of $1,000 (Grand Larceny), or forging documents submitted in connection with an unemployment application with the intent to deceive (Forgery).

Penalties and Punishment

As mentioned, each of these offenses can be, and most often are, charged as felonies, which come with the possibility of many years in state prison, not to mention 5-year terms of probation, large fines, restitution and community service. The range of sentences available to a judge is determined by the degree of the crime under the New York Penal Law. For example, Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, Penal Law 155.30, is a class “E” felony which comes with a sentence of up to one and one third to four years in state prison, and Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Penal Law 155.40, is a class “C” felony, which can come with up to seven and one third to fifteen years in prison. Relatedly, Forgery in the Second Degree, Penal Law 170.10, is punishable by as much as seven years in prison if serving the maximum term, and Offering a False Instrument for Filing, Penal Law 175.35, is punishable by incarceration for as long as four years under the same circumstances. Keep in mind that the total Grand Larceny would be aggregated together to increase your exposure as one crime, but every time you allegedly misrepresented and filed a knowingly altered or filed a false document would be distinct offense.

Hypotheticals and Examples

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York State Unemployment office waived the ordinary 7-day waiting period for Unemployment Insurance benefits for people would have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus closures and quarantines by executive order of the Governor. This necessary reduction in oversight will surely lead to just benefits to many people in need but will equally be assured to lead to abuse and deception by many others.

There are many examples of unemployment fraud, and it’s easy to see how an ordinary person could easily run afoul of the law, whether by mistake or deliberate. Some of the most examples of things than can result in a unemployment fraud charge are:

  • going back to work and continuing to collect Unemployment Insurance benefits
  • working part-time but failing to report all of the days you worked
  • going back to full-time from part-time but continuing to collect benefits because the full-time position is only temporary
  • working off the books temporarily
  • listing employers on job search paperwork that you have not contacted
  • Stating that you are ready, able and willing to work but are in fact out of town, too sick to work, or do not have childcare arrangements and so would be unable to work
Your Case, Your Defense, Your Future

If you find yourself facing down allegations that you abused and misused the unemployment insurance system, it is imperative that you contact a criminal lawyer immediately, as even the mere allegation can have life-alternating affects for you, your family and even your business. Whether you’re simply being questioned by the unemployment office, Department of Labor, the NYPD, the Attorney General’s Office, or a District Attorney’s Office, having an experienced, knowledgeable and passionate attorney such as Saland Law’s fraud defense lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors on your side can make all the difference. Let us be in your corner to protect your rights and help clear your name.

Call the New York theft lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at 212.312.7129 or contact us online today.

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