ST. GEORGE — Eleven members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints named in a federal indictment case alleging they took part in a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud and money laundering scheme are scheduled to face trial in federal court in May.
A status hearing was held in federal court in St. George Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert T. Braithwaite to lay out the progress of the case, set a timeline for discovery matters and discuss other matters relevant to moving the case toward trial.
Braithwaite set a four-week jury trial in the matter for May 31. The case will be heard in Salt Lake City’s federal court before Judge Ted Stewart.
A “very large” courtroom is needed for this trial, defense attorney Aric Cramer said after the hearing, adding that the courtroom in Salt Lake City’s federal courthouse is the biggest courtroom in the state.
Also during Tuesday’s status hearing, Braithwaite ordered pretrial motions be filed by May 10 and for discovery to be provided to defendants in the case by April 15.
Defense counsel have three-plus terabytes of information to get through before trial, Cramer said, adding his office received a small disk of discovery in the mail Tuesday morning but there are still 89 more disks of discovery to come.
Braithwaite set a new status conference for April 27 at 9 a.m. before Stewart.
“It is unknown if this case will be resolved by a negotiated plea of some kind,” according to court documents signed Tuesday by Braithwaite. “If so, plea negotiations should be completed by May 17. If negotiations are not completed for a plea by the date set, the case will be tried.”
The 11 members of the FLDS polygamous sect, which has historically claimed the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, as home base, are charged in a two-count indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court, District of Utah, in February. Federal prosecutors allege the indicted FLDS members conspired to commit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors allege FLDS members receiving food stamp benefits were directed by church leaders to give their government-issued benefits – in food and cash transfers – to the church, which collects and redistributes commodities to the community. Money from those accounts was spent at church-run stores and businesses and otherwise diverted, the indictment alleges.
Following their arrest, eight of the defendants named in the indictment were released from custody on pretrial conditions, including: Kimball Dee Barlow, Winford Johnson Barlow, Rulon Mormon Barlow, Ruth Peine Barlow, Hyrum Bygnal Dutson, Kristal Meldrum Dutson, Preston Yates Barlow and John Clifton Wayman.
In separate proceedings, the federal court ruled defendants Lyle Steed Jeffs, Seth Steed Jeffs and Nephi Steed Allred each pose a serious risk of fleeing before trial and remanded the three men to remain behind bars until trial.
While federal prosecutors maintain the FLDS food stamp fraud case has nothing to do with the polygamous sect’s religion, Cramer said he believes the case is about religion.
“Polygamy is a very easy whipping boy in Utah,” Cramer said, “and they continue to pick on these folks.”
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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