Six members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor on Wednesday in a federal food-stamp fraud case.
Under identical plea deals, the half-dozen defendants admitted to aiding and abetting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits fraud and were immediately sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Braithwaite in St. George.
The six — Kimball Dee Barlow, Winford Johnson Barlow, Rulon Mormon Barlow, Ruth Peine Barlow, Hyrum Bygnal Duston and Kristal Meldrum Dutson — do not have to serve jail time or probation and do not have to pay restitution or a fine but must participate in a one-time training event on the proper use of SNAP benefits. None had served any jail time while the case was pending.
The six are among 11 FLDS members charged last February with one count of conspiracy to defraud SNAP and one count of conspiracy to launder money, both felonies, for allegedly diverting millions of dollars worth of their benefits from 2011 to 2016.
Kristal Dutson's attorney, Aric Cramer, said he believes she was innocent and that the case would have been difficult to prove. However, he said, prosecutors offered a "generous" deal that was hard to pass up.
Attorney Rudy Bautista, who represents Kimball Barlow, said his client "is happy to have this behind him so he could get on with the rest of his life."
Prosecutors allege FLDS leaders required sect members to turn over to the church their SNAP cards or the food purchased with them, and in some cases SNAP benefits were used at church-controlled stores and converted to cash.
Last month, two defendants, John Wayman and Seth Steed Jeffs, pleaded guilty under plea deals to a felony charge of unlawfully using SNAP benefits. The two got sentences of time served with no probation or restitution — other than a $100 court fee — and also must participate in SNAP training.
The plea agreements for the eight defendants who have been sentenced specify that they do not have to testify or cooperate with the government.
Jeffs, a brother of imprisoned FLDS President Warren Jeffs, leads the FLDS congregation in South Dakota; Wayman is a former bishop in the FLDS. The two had been freed pending trial, but were re-arrested Aug. 1.
Warren Jeffs is serving a prison sentence of life plus 20 years in Texas for convictions related to sexually abusing two underage girls he married as spiritual wives.
Some of the defense attorneys had challenged whether donating SNAP benefits actually violates any law. Defense attorney Jay Winward, who represented Seth Jeffs, wondered after his client's Dec. 28 sentencing why the government didn't just ask him to stop giving the benefits to his church.
At Wayman's sentencing on Dec. 23, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund, placed the criminal prosecutions in context with broader efforts by the federal government to attack a "culture of fraud" within the FLDS. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice received a favorable jury verdict in a discrimination case against the polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and the U.S. Department of Labor in 2016 successfully pursued civil cases against two FLDS businesses that used unpaid child workers.
The cases against the three remaining food stamp fraud defendants are pending.
One of them, Preston Yates Barlow, had been scheduled to enter a plea and be sentenced Wednesday but his attorney was unable to be present at the hearing. Another, Nephi Steed Allred, has filed a motion to suppress evidence seized in his case and a hearing on that issue is pending.
The final defendant, Lyle Jeffs, fled in June and remains at large. He has not been offered a plea bargain, according to prosecutors.