Federal Government Program Fraud Charges

The following is excerpted from an interview with DC federal government fraud lawyer Jason Kalafat, where he answers questions about different kinds of government fraud allegations and charges.

What are the different government programs where you have seen fraud charges?

Jason Kalafat: The District of Columbia is different than any other jurisdiction in the United States. For comparative purposes, let’s take, for example, a state like Maryland. In Maryland, you have government programs and benefits that can flow through the state level, the county level, or the municipal level. Because the District of Columbia is not a state, it is a city in itself, it doesn’t have a separate state or county. Thus, you have many different programs that all flow through the same government entity. In addition, there’s also enormous federal structure here because Washington, DC is the seat of a federal government. So you have lots of federal benefits and programs here.

Now, common types of programs or benefits that are involved in fraud cases could be at the local level in the District of Columbia. There’s a whole range of local “city-type” programs here such as unemployment benefits, childcare subsidies, government grants, and community programs. You also have federal programs because of the federal government here. Thus, you have  many government contractors, whether they are individuals or companies. In any of those contractor situations, you’ll have the possibility of charges of procurement fraud when someone is putting in a bid for a program. In addition, you have the possibility of charges for fraud in the billing or management of the program.  In my practice, I’ve seen everything from someone allegedly obtaining unemployment benefits or other welfare-type benefits fraudulently to a major defense department government contracts where a sub-contractor allegedly engaged in fraud in the participation in the program.

Now are these felonies or misdemeanor offenses?

Jason Kalafat: Almost always, they will be felonies because the determination of whether a fraud is a felony or a misdemeanor is based upon the monetary amount. Generally,  the government does not become aware of fraudulent activity until it has reached a large amount, and fraud involving $1,000 or more is a felony.  However, the government can certainly prosecute misdemeanor fraud involving less than $1,000.

Are government fraud cases heard in the federal court?

Jason Kalafat: They are, but not always. It just depends on what the government benefit program was that was the target of the fraud. Again, because Washington, DC is sort of a state, county, and city all combined into one, you will have certain benefits and programs that are DC specific. An example would be childcare subsidies where, in  DC, if you are a resident and qualify because of your income level, you can get reduced or free childcare. If you’re engaged in fraud with regards to that program, then it would be the equivalent of a state-level charge prosecuted in DC Superior Court. However, if it involves any federal money or any federal program, you can expect that it will be filed and prosecuted in the DC Federal Court.

How is it decided if a fraud case is local or federal in nature?

Jason Kalafat: Typically, it would be the source of the government program or benefit. If it is a federal program or federal money flowing through a program then it will be most likely prosecuted in federal court. If it is purely local money  meaning coming from the District of Columbia government then it will be prosecuted most likely in Superior Court.

What are the major differences in how these cases are handled?

Jason Kalafat: Federal cases are always more complex and more time-consuming.  The amount of resources used by the government is typically greater and  penalties are generally more severe. It is more likely that someone would do time in jail or prison if they’re convicted of a crime in federal court as opposed to being convicted of the same crime at the state level or, in DC, at Superior Court. Therefore, any time you have a federal case, you’re facing the potential of much more severe consequences.

[More on Federal Charges]

[More on Investigation and Prosecution of Government Program Fraud]

[More on Penalties for Government Program Fraud]

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