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Coronavirus Relief Fraud & Crimes: Unemployment Insurance and Assistance

Scamming the state or federal government by filing false claims of unemployment, among other things, will no doubt land you in more than proverbial hot water. In fact, should you be the subject or target of an investigation, arrest, or indictment, you’ll no doubt need an coronavirus unemployment fraud attorney with more than a mere ladle in hand to pull you out of danger and harm’s way. In New York City and New York State, as well as throughout the nation, there are several new and decades old programs being offered by various private and government lenders with respect to the COVID-19 epidemic, all of which are susceptible to misuse and abuse. Due to the confusion of the pandemic, and the numerous individuals who are newly receiving unemployment insurance and assistance, it is considerably more likely than under normal circumstances that theft or fraud can, and will, be alleged by prosecutors, the NYPD, State Police, or other law enforcement agencies. Of the potential crimes that an accused may find him or herself charged, Grand Larceny, Offering a False Instrument for Filing, and Forgery, likely top the list. Whatever accusations are being made against you in these circumstances, you should anticipate that law enforcement will have no patience or tolerance for this kind of theft, especially under the current circumstances where these institutions and programs are overwhelmed due to the devastation caused by the coronavirus.

Unemployment Assistance & COVID-19

Put simply, unemployment insurance is temporary income for eligible workers who have lost their job, and particularly those who have not been fired for something that they are at fault. In order to collect such benefits, a person must be ready, willing, and able to work, and must also be currently and proactively seeking work during each week in which the individual is claiming unemployment benefits. Before a person can collect these benefits, he or she must submit an application to the unemployment office. Subsequent to that initial application, the individual must continue to claim benefits during each and every week that the person is not working and seeking a job. This includes weeks during which the person is waiting for the benefit payments to begin. In order to qualify for this type of aid, a person must also have enough work hours and wages in so-called “covered employment,” given that employers in New York are obligated to pay contributions that provide the funding for these programs.

Potential Crimes & Charges

There are many different crimes and criminal offenses that could potentially be applied to theft in the unemployment insurance benefits context. Perhaps the most obvious and readily apparent are Grand Larceny, Forgery and Offering a False Instrument for Filing. Each of these criminal offenses and classifications would result in a permanent criminal record that can and would have life-altering and, in many ways, serious detrimental effects as a result of an arrest and conviction. Each of these offenses can be charged as a felony, which would be punishable by multiple years in state prison. All of these offenses amount to what is essentially theft, in one way or another, whether it is through fraud, filing a false document with a public officer, stealing money that amounts to more than $1,000, or altering and modifying documents that are filed in conjunction with an unemployment application.

Penalties & Punishment

As referenced above, each of these types of crimes can, and likely would, be charged as felonies. As such, any conviction, even for a first time offender, would be accompanied by the possibility of multiple years in state prison, or as much as five years of probation, substantial fines, restitution and/or community service. The particular range of possible sentences that are applicable in a particular case or charge, which would be considered by the presiding judge, is determined by the degree of the offense. Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, Penal Law 155.30, is a class E felony which would come with a sentence of up to one and one third to four years in state prison, while Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Penal Law 155.40, for example, is a class C felony, which would come with up to five to fifteen years in prison. Similarly, Forgery in the Second Degree, Penal Law 170.10, is punishable by as much as seven years as a class D felony while Offering a False Instrument for Filing, Penal Law 175.35, is carries a sentence as great as four years in prison as a class E felony.

Examples of COVID-19 Fraud

Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the New York State Unemployment Office had waived the ordinary 7-day waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits for a time. This applied to people who would have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 closures and quarantines that resulted from the Governor’s executive orders. This necessary reduction in waiting times and, therefore, oversight will most assuredly result in benefits to many people in desperate situations, but it will also likely lead to other people taking advantage of the emergency, or at least a heightened suspicion that people are taking advantage of the system in hindsight. Therefore, even the slightest irregularity will likely be looked upon as potentially criminal.

There are many examples of how the monies in this context can be misappropriated, and it’s simple to imagine how a regular, law-abiding person could find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Some of the most readily apparent examples of these kinds of scenarios that might result in an allegation are:

  • returning to work and continuing to collect benefits
  • working part-time but neglecting to report the days worked
  • returning to full-time employment from a part-time limitation, but continuing to collect benefits with the thought that the full-time position is likely only temporary
  • working off the books for some extra income
  • listing employers on job search paperwork that you have not yet contacted
  • Stating that you are ready, able and willing to work when you are, in fact, not in the state, too ill to work, or do not have childcare arrangements set up yet

Remember, each time you respond to or fill out the paperwork to continue your aid, should you knowingly do so falsely, you likely are committing new and separate crimes.

Protect Yourself Today, Tomorrow, & Beyond

Despite the accusations you may face, you may have simply made an honest mistake when applying for such benefits or during any part of the process. No matter how or when the issue arises, should you not avail yourself of the guidance from and representation by an attorney with firsthand experience in these types of cases, you are potentially setting yourself up for both failure and a lifetime of regret.

If you find yourself staring down the barrel of criminal allegations that you defrauded or deceived an unemployment insurance program, it is essential that you contact a criminal lawyer as soon as possible, given that even the allegation itself can have life-changing impacts on you, your family and your reputation. Whether you are merely being questioned by the unemployment office, the NYPD, prosecutors, investigators, or the AG’s Office, there is not substitute for representation by and from experienced, knowledgeable advocates. The defense attorneys and former Manhattan prosecutors at Crotty Saland PC can make every bit of difference.

Call the New York theft lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

Client Reviews
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From the moment I contacted Jeremy Saland he inspired trust and confidence. His honesty and extensive knowledge about the court process made me feel like I was in good hands. He helped make a stressful and difficult experience more manageable and tolerable by clearly informing me on the legal steps we had to take and knowing exactly what to expect for our day in court. Thank you for your professionalism and help Jeremy! I will be eternally grateful. Alexandra
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I was arrested and charged with Grand Larceny. I was filmed on surveillance camera and the police was trying to find me for several days. Although I had to spend the night in prison/ tombs he was able to set me free the next morning without bail. A court date was set for August but he was able to negotiate with the DA and after only three weeks I had to appear before court, pay a restitution fine and was sentenced with an ACD for a period of 6 months. Alex
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