HILDALE, Utah (ABC4 Utah) Former FLDS members are outraged over what they call an unjust sentence for six Fundamentalist LDS (FLDS) members who pleaded guilty to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program fraud.
A federal judge accepted a plea deal with US attorneys in one of the country's largest welfare fraud cases Wednesday.
"No question that this sentence was a light sentence," Dowayne Barlow said, witness in the federal case and former FLDS member.
"[I am] really, really, really disappointed," Shirlee Draper said, former FLDS member.
Hyrum Dutson, Rulon Barlow, Kimball Barlow, Ruth Barlow, Winford Barlow and Kristal Dutson admitted to the $12 million fraud scheme that went on for four and a half years. As part of the plea deal, the group will not face jail time, probation or pay restitution.
"I'm blown away that they would get misdemeanors and no retribution," Barlow said.
The six codefendants pleaded guilty after prosecutors say they conspired to take SNAP benefits from qualifying families and hand them over to leader of the polygamous religion. According to the indictment, the welfare money was used inappropriately and not on food.
"It kind of sends the message that they are above the law. They've always been above the law. They've always preached that they follow God's laws and not man's laws. For them not to have any retribution, kind of reinforces that," Draper said.
Federal prosecutors disagree, saying the sentence wasn't a slap on the wrist.
"There are people who say that, there are also, one of the defense lawyers said last week that it was an unfair prosecution of these people and no one else would be prosecuted this way. So for us, we think we were able to achieve what was appropriate," US Prosecutor Robert Lund said Wednesday.
While disappointed, Barlow and Draper hope the fraud scheme admissions will strengthen the case against Lyle Jeffs, an FLDS leader on the run after slipping out of his ankle monitor last summer.
"We have to understand that this is basically organized crime. If we look at it from that perspective of organized crime, these are just the people at the bottom of the food chain," Sherrie Mackert said, social worker in Hildale.
"I really hope that something else comes out of this," Draper said.
Before pleading guilty, the codefendants faced up to 25 years in prison. The judge ordered the defendants to attend a class reviewing SNAP benefits.
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