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Deals reached for some defendants in polygamous food-stamp-fraud case, lawyers say

12/02/16

The Salt Lake Tribune

Nate Carlisle

Courts » Lawyers also say atleast two plan to plead guilty.

Federal prosecutors haveoffered plea agreements to most of the 11 polygamous sect members accused ofdefrauding the food stamp program, lawyers said Thursday, and have given someof the defendants a chance to plead guilty to only a misdemeanor and avoidprison.

At least two of thedefendants, Kimball Dee Barlow and Ruth Barlow, plan to plead guilty, theirrespective attorneys said Thursday.

“It’s anticipated hewill accept a plea offer, yes,” said Barlow’s attorney, Rudy J. Bautista.

Bautista, like other defenseattorneys involved in the case — if they spoke at all Thursday — declined todiscuss specifics of the plea agreement for fear that the deal could fall apartbefore it is entered in court.

Bautista said hisunderstanding was that prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office in Utah haveoffered deals to everyone except Lyle Jeffs, a former bishop in theFundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who absconded fromhome confinement in June.

The U.S. attorneys office,through spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch, declined to to comment Thursday.

Aric Cramer, who representsdefendant Kristal M. Dutson, said she is pondering whether to accept a pleaagreement.

Cramer declined to say whatDutson was offered, but he said federal prosecutors have given at least somedefendants the chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Those defendants would nothave to go to jail or prison, Cramer said, nor would they have to pay anyrestitution or testify against co-defendants.

“It’s an amazingoffer,” Cramer said. “I have never seen in 27 years of practice afederal prosecutor offer a misdemeanor after filing felonies.”

Cramer said he had heardfrom other attorneys that the misdemeanor offers were made to defendants whomthe government did not consider leaders in the FLDS. The leaders, includingSeth Jeffs, who led the FLDS congregation in South Dakota, and former FLDSbishop John Wayman, received offers allowing them to plead to more seriousoffenses, which were still less harsh than the two counts of conspiracy withwhich all defendants were indicted in February, Cramer and other attorneys saidThursday.

Prosecutors “kind ofhave this thing: ‘It doesn’t really matter what you’ve done. If your name isJeffs, you’re just evil and we’re going to treat you as such,’” Cramer said.

Defense attorney Ryan Stout,who represents Ruth Barlow, confirmed that she will plead guilty. He declinedto specify whether she will plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge or thestiffer offense reserved for the leaders.

“Well, she’s notconsidered one of the head honchos, I’ll give you that,” Stout said.

Cramer said prosecutors gavedefendants a Friday deadline to accept the deals. All 11 defendants arescheduled for trial on Jan. 30.

They were indicted inFebruary, each with one count of conspiracy to defraud the SupplementalNutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and one count of conspiracy to laundermoney. Prosecutors say FLDS leaders required sect members to turn over to thechurch their SNAP cards or the food purchased with them, and in some cases SNAPbenefits were used at church-controlled stores and converted to cash.

Offers to plead guilty tolesser or fewer charges are a common tactic in the criminal justice system.Cramer said the offers here are not necessarily a sign that the government hasweak cases, but perhaps that prosecutors pursued indictments too soon.

Prosecutors and the FBIaccumulated terabytes of evidence and have missed multiple deadlines to sortthat evidence and provide it to the defense.

“It’s a very sloppyinvestigation,” Cramer said. “It’s a very sloppy case.”

Former FLDS members havewatched the case in hopes it would dismantle the sect, whose president, WarrenJeffs, is already serving a prison sentence in Texas for sexually abusing twounderage girls he married. He is a brother to Lyle and Seth Jeffs.

A half-brother, WallaceJeffs, on Thursday said he was OK with the lesser defendants pleading guilty tothe misdemeanors, but said the FLDS leadership needs to go to prison.

Anything less is”another slap on the wrist to these guys,” Wallace Jeffs said,”and they’ll just keep doing what they’ve always done.”

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle

http://www.sltrib.com/home/4659633-155/deals-reached-for-some-defendants-in?fullpage=1

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