6 FLDS members strike plea deals in multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud case

ST. GEORGE — Six of the 11 defendants charged in the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud case struck plea deals with federal prosecutors Wednesday in U.S. District Court in St. George.

Initially charged with one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and one count of conspiracy to launder money, the six FLDS members pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor count of using SNAP benefits contrary to the law.

During Wednesday’s hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert T. Braithwaite, defendants Kimball Dee Barlow, Winford Johnson Barlow, Rulon Mormon Barlow, Ruth Peine Barlow, Hyrum Bygnal Dutson and Kristal Meldrum Dutson admitted to knowingly diverting SNAP benefits to people who weren’t eligible to receive them.

FLDS co-defendant Preston Yates Barlow is also expected to accept a plea deal. However, his attorney was out of the country Wednesday, and his case will be heard at a later date.

Under the deal, upon pleading guilty to the fraud, the six defendants – who each received the exact same sentence – will not have to serve jail time or probation, and they do not have to pay restitution. The defendants will have to attend a government training class on the proper use of SNAP benefits.

The deals are similar to those accepted earlier this month by co-defendants John Wayman and Seth Jeffs, two high-ranking leaders of the polygamous sect who were both immediately released from jail after entering guilty pleas.

Nephi Steed Allred, who still has a suppression motion pending, and fugitive FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs, who has not been offered a deal since fleeing from police custody, are the only two remaining defendants of the 11 defendants indicted by a federal grand jury in February 2016 on food stamp fraud and money laundering charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund (right) arriving at the courthouse Wednesday morning, St. George, Utah, Jan. 4, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund (right) arriving at the courthouse Wednesday morning, St. George, Utah, Jan. 4, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

The defendants allegedly ordered FLDS members to hand over SNAP benefits to church leaders. Federal prosecutors have alleged that the fraud scheme bilked taxpayers out of more than $12 million over the course of five years.

However, outside the courthouse Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund said the exact number of financial loss is difficult to determine.

“With regard to the loss figure that’s mentioned in the indictment, that is not a figure that relates to an easily verifiable figure,” Lund said. “In typical fraud cases, we’re able to determine what investors donated what amount of money and it’s easy to determine. In this case, that figure relates to fraud indicators so, it’s more an estimation than it is an exact figure of loss.”

Regarding the result of the case, Lund said federal prosecutors believe they were able to achieve an appropriate outcome.

“The goal of this prosecution was to try to stop the diversion of SNAP benefits and ensure that needy families receive the food that they’re entitled to have,” Lund said. ” … For the government, we feel like we’ve achieved the goals of this prosecution.”

Outside of the courtroom, defense attorney Aric Cramer and his client, Kristal Dutson, appear pleased with a plea deal struck with federal prosecutors, St. George, Utah, Jan. 4, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Outside of the courtroom, defense attorney Aric Cramer and his client, Kristal Dutson, appear pleased with a plea deal struck with federal prosecutors, St. George, Utah, Jan. 4, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Aric Cramer, Kristal Dutson’s defense, said the case should never have been brought in the first place and that he believes it would have been a tough case for prosecutors to prove.

“I think it was a good deal for my client even though I don’t believe she was guilty of any crime,” Cramer said, “but to avoid the risks of going to trial and having the jury feel that she may have been a conspirator in some function, having a misdemeanor won’t adversely affect her life.”

However, not everyone is pleased with the results of the case.

After learning of the plea deals, Sam Brower, a private investigator who has been researching the FLDS church for the last 12 years, called Seth Jeffs’ deal “the most insane, incompetent, disturbing and disgraceful miscarriage of justice” he had ever seen.

“It would have been better if the US attorneys office never prosecuted the case to begin with,” Brower said in a statement on Facebook last week.

Echoing Brower’s sentiments, Brenda Nicholson, a former sect member and vocal critic of the FLDS, posted the following statement on Facebook:

Utah, once again I am ashamed of you and appalled at the lack of justice that exists where religion enters the equation. Shame on you. Shame on the incompetent prosecution and shame on Judge Stewart for accepting such insane plea deals.

Email: kscott@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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16 Comments

  • ladybugavenger January 4, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    I bet everyone in the country that has been charged with a crime would like to have the same deal: charge lessened, no jail, no probation, no restitution. They wouldn’t mind taking a class either 😉

    This sends an awful message.

    They will carry on, business as usual.

  • mmsandie January 4, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    What is wrong with utah,they committed a crime and should pay back the money,they all can work..all they do us have babies and live off the taxpayers.. And how us Warren jeffs controlling them?? It’s a sad day. We tax payers always get stuck.. And muddle class end up paying.. If they spent the money on computers and vans,,get them back and sell them for some money.. I see them eating out in town, drilling new vans etc., who works??

  • Kyle L. January 4, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Our neighbors are two of the accused. The husbands quote to me was,”It was there own fault. They should have been doing what the church said”. He was referring to the people that had their benefits stolen from them. They all should be in jail!!!

  • Kyle L. January 4, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    They are all laughing right now.

  • Harold S. January 4, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    Yup, the state of Utah is the safest place for criminals to come and be successful. Utah’s judicial system is a laughing joke. They didn’t even get the charges against Warren Jeffs to stick. His conviction was overturned by the Utah supreme court and luckily he was convicted and put where he belongs by the state of Texas. Go Texas!!!!

    • Real Life January 5, 2017 at 8:09 am

      FLDS is really not that different than LDS, they both read the same silly book. This kind of crap would not be allowed anywhere else in this country.

  • anybody home January 4, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    Why does Utah even bother arresting these people…? It’s a joke.

  • dhamilton2002 January 4, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    So do any of the others who commented want to start a cult, find a way to steal $10+ mil from the government and then buy an island in the South Pacific with me? What a scam!!!!!

    • ladybugavenger January 5, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Well, I would, but….I always get caught and they would throw me in the slammer and they would lock me up forever, citing I was a ring leader of a mass corruption and fraud. I’ll pass, and I wouldn’t be good to have around if you don’t want to get caught at something. Which is why this story angers me! Why are they so special?

  • utahdiablo January 4, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    This isn’t over by a long shot FLDS….after 1/21/2017 Congressman Jeff Sessions will be the new head of the US DOJ and all this misjustice story from Utah will be forwarded to him….so smile your asses off while you can

  • .... January 5, 2017 at 12:30 am

    LOL. this should be good when Bob gets here

  • Ron January 5, 2017 at 9:07 am

    This is the most, gross miscarriage of justice I have witnessed in my 65 years of life….at least for the state of Utah.
    Whatever is wrong with the judicial system in this state? It is my opinion that the DOJ lawyers who took this to trial are of the same type of lawyers that found nothing illegal with Hillary’s emails. Obama and his minions are on their way out, and it couldn’t be soon enough.
    These fraudsters of the FLDS can keep laughing and keep defrauding the taxpayers of this state. But only for the time being. As a previous commenter stated above, the new incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions will get this case referred to him and he will see to it that justice is served. Keep laughing FLDS fraudsters….all good (and illegal) things do come to an end.
    I am so sick and tired of the FLDS community that keeps abusing the system for their own illegal benefit…all at the cost of the hard working taxpayers.
    When I see them at Costco with two or three flatbed carts loaded up past their heads, and then they are loading their brand new SUVs with all the products, it is time to really question why they are allowed to continue to “bleed the beast” on the backs of the hard working people of Washington county.
    Listen up Washington county FLDS….we the people are fed up with your continued abuse of us, the working class!!
    Begin to think of what is coming with the new administration and a new Attorney General who will be backed by a President who vowed to do what is right for “the people”. Begin to fear what your illegal actions will incur.

  • theone January 5, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Surprised? Nah, just following the founder of the Mormon religion. To be fair all religion is nothing more than a con. Utah has one of the highest rates of scams in the US. No one should be surprised with how the state minimizes the acts of blue color criminal behavior, and packs the prison system with potheads. Go Utah!

    • ladybugavenger January 5, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      I know, I mention Jesus in Utah, they think I’m Mormon. I mention Jesus in Oklahoma, they think I’m Baptist. LOL! Whatever they want to think. Idk. I’m not a member of any religion. I just love God and Jesus! I love you too Theone 😉

      Legalize marijuana!
      Go Raiders!

      • ladybugavenger January 5, 2017 at 1:56 pm

        Idk was suppose to be I don’t care lol I don’t kare? Lol

  • comments January 5, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    If it wasn’t for the state of Texas the holy prophet Brother Warren Jeffs would still be “marrying” and raping little girls and the great state of UT would still be turning a blind eye to it. UT is one backassward state in so many ways, and much of the dysfunction if built upon mormonism in it’s many forms. The FLDS mormons are more true to the founding principles of Brother Joseph Smith than are the LDS mormons, that’s for sure.

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