ST. GEORGE — A leader in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was ordered to be released from custody during a federal court hearing Wednesday after it was found that he had not violated the terms of his pretrial release in a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud and money laundering case.
Preston Barlow was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of violating conditions of his release agreement after his GPS ankle monitor showed he was in the same place as two of his co-defendants, Seth Jeffs and John Wayman, multiple times in late July.
Barlow – who is among 11 defendants arrested for allegedly diverting at least $12 million worth of food stamp benefits from FLDS members – had been released from jail pending trial with an agreement that he not associate with potential witnesses or other defendants in the case.
Barlow appeared in federal court with his attorney Scott Williams before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert T. Braithwaite in St. George Wednesday after the U.S. Probation Office filed an Aug. 2 amended petition to the court stating that Barlow had violated his agreement.
The probation office, however, failed to take into account an April 14 stipulated order modifying conditions of Barlow’s release in which the court granted Barlow permission to have “communication with co-defendants, so long as said communication does not relate to this case.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap, acting as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the case, told the court the government acknowledges the order modifying conditions of release and that it has no evidence as to whether Barlow had conversations with co-defendants regarding the case.
Belnap then asked the court to reinstate Barlow’s original conditions of release and to include among those conditions that Barlow be prohibited from having direct or indirect communication with the polygamous sect’s leader, Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas after being convicted of sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.
Barlow’s attorney asked that if the government wants to seek a change of conditions that the government do so through proper procedure by appropriate petition with an appropriate period for the defense to respond and in a court hearing – “just like the defendant would have to do if the defendant wanted to,” Williams said.
Belnap followed by asking that the court impose the government’s requested change in conditions of Barlow’s release pending a hearing to resolve the matter.
In response, Braithwaite rescinded his April 14 order which allowed Barlow to have contact with his co-defendants.
“I don’t see any way, short of Mr. Barlow wearing a wire which the court doesn’t intend – I shouldn’t have signed that order because there’s no way you can police that to monitor what they are talking about, so I’m going to rescind that order,” Braithwaite said of the April 14 modified release agreement.
Braithwaite restored the original pretrial release terms put in place on Feb. 26 precluding Barlow from having communication with co-defendants and also imposed a preclusion of communicating with Warren Jeffs.
Braithwaite found Barlow had not violated his release agreement and ordered that he be released from custody following Wednesday’s hearing.
“It turns out that everyone agreed that the allegation that he violated his pretrial release conditions was in error – he did not,” Williams said outside the courthouse, adding:
It’s a bit rough to be jailed on a mistake but I’m not here to point fingers at this point. … We appreciate the fact that United States pretrial services, when they realized the circumstances and the actual conditions, were quick to seek to communicate with the judge and put things right. They worked quick.
Williams said he and his client will consider whether to appeal the change of conditions in Barlow’s release.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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