FLDS member to take plea deal in food stamp fraud case

Fox 13 News, Utah/December 8, 2016

By Ben Winslow

Salt Lake City -- At least one member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church accused in a massive food stamp fraud and money laundering scheme will take a plea deal, his attorney confirmed to FOX 13.

"There has been a plea offer made by the United States government," said Rudy Bautista, the attorney for Kimball Barlow. "Mr. Barlow has accepted it."

Barlow is among 11 members of the Utah-based FLDS Church who were indicted by a federal grand jury on food stamp fraud and money laundering charges. They're accused in a conspiracy where faithful members of the church were ordered to hand over Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to leadership, to do with as they wished. Federal prosecutors have claimed the scheme exceeds $12 million in taxpayer money.

Barlow has signaled to the government he will take the deal that avoids a potential federal prison sentence. Restitution and any fines are still up in the air.

"As it is anticipated, he will enter a guilty plea of a charge of conspiracy to commit fraud as a misdemeanor," Bautista said in an interview Thursday with FOX 13. "The terms from there are, in addition to pleading to that, there would be no incarceration."

Bautista said he was told all defendants -- except fugitive FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs -- have been offered deals. Jeffs remains on the run after absconding from home confinement earlier this year. FOX 13 first reported the FBI believes Jeffs used olive oil to slip out of a GPS monitoring device.

Lyle Jeffs is the brother of imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage "marriages." (Warren Jeffs has been considered an unindicted co-conspirator in some court filings.)

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah would not comment on any plea deal negotiations under way. No hearings have been scheduled yet, but the case is scheduled to go to trial in January.

Talks apparently started after a federal judge rejected defense motions to dismiss the indictment on First Amendment religious freedom grounds. The FLDS defendants claimed a religious freedom right to consecrate their property -- including food stamp benefits -- to the church. The judge refused to dismiss the indictment, but allowed the defense to bring the religious freedom issue up at trial.

Bautista said the case was very complicated with numerous defendants raising numerous constitutional issues.

"Sometimes, when you're looking at the overall picture and all the difficulties and the religious issues in this case, and whether anyone had direct knowledge or indirect knowledge, it's a reasonable way to resolve the case," he said.

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