The FLDS food stamp fraud case ends with a whimper, as the State brokers a range of plea deals and dropped charges. Both sides are declaring victory in the highly publicized case. But there is still the small matter of fugitive from justice Lyle Jeffs, currently on the FBI's most wanted list.
For a case that began with FBI raids in the polygamous enclaves of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., it is ending quietly with nearly all of the defendants taking plea deals. Federal prosecutors have acknowledged an uphill battle if the case went to trial, where FLDS members were expected to claim a religious right to consecrate all they have to their church.
Defense attorneys have said the First Amendment religious freedom rights allows for FLDS members to live the "law of consecration," which includes communal living and giving of all they have. They also argued federal law is silent on whether SNAP benefits could be shared.
As he left the courthouse, Hyrum Dutson told reporters: "We won."
"It's like Vietnam. The government declared victory and got out and everyone's benefitted for it," said Aric Cramer, an attorney for Kristal Dutson. "It's a good deal."
Asked if he knew where Lyle Jeffs is, Hyrum Dutson replied: "It wouldn't matter if I did."
Six accepted convictions on misdemeanor charges.
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.
Two defendants plead guilty to felony charges and were sentenced to time served.
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.
Nephi Steed Allred got a walk, as the State dropped the charges entirely.
A judge on Friday dismissed the two felony charges against a member of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in a federal food stamp fraud case.
The judge did so at the request of prosecutors. The dismissal makes Nephi Allred the latest member of the sect to resolve his case and the first to do so without entering a guilty plea.
Preston Barlow is expected cop a plea as well.
Lyle Jeffs, who slipped his ankle monitor, remains at large. Perhaps he will return from his repentance mission, now that the State is handing out deals like Christmas presents. That is, unless he has in fact been raptured up.
The larger question is whether rank and file FLDS members will continue to starve. The plea deals include instruction in the proper use of SNAP benefits. I expect that surf n' turf for the church elite and beans n' toast for everybody else is a practice that will be discouraged.