SALT LAKE CITY -- A member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church charged in a massive food stamp fraud case is asking a federal judge to let him contact imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in prison.
In a court filing Monday obtained by FOX 13, Preston Barlow asked the judge to lift an order prohibiting him from contacting Jeffs, arguing that it burdens his First Amendment religious freedom rights.
"The tenets of Mr. Barlow's sincerely held religious beliefs require him to maintain a conduit of connection and communication with his prophet. He does so by writing to Warren Jeffs approximately one time per month. The writings do not generate a direct response from Warren Jeffs," Barlow's attorney, Scott Williams, wrote.
Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage "marriages." Federal authorities and ex-members of the cloistered polygamous church have said he continues to run things from his prison cell.
Barlow was originally released from jail after he was arrested in February when he was charged in the food stamp fraud case. He was re-arrested earlier this month, accused of violating the terms of his pre-trial release by having contact with other defendants in the case. Williams wrote that Barlow, who works for an electric company in Hildale and also runs the dairy, had exemptions for contact with co-defendants in his pre-trial release.
"The Government agreed that there was no evidence to support any claim that Mr. Barlow violated any condition of his release. Mr. Barlow had been arrested and held in jail for two days by mistake," Williams wrote.
However, when he was released again, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Braithwaite ordered Barlow to have no contact with Jeffs. Williams urged U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart to lift the order.
"Mr. Barlow abides by a sincerely held belief that communication to the prophet of his church, Warren Jeffs, is necessary to meet religious tenets that require maintaining a conduit of contact with the Prophet," Williams wrote. "Mr. Barlow sincerely believes that failure to abide by this tenet will result in an inability to achieve eternal salvation."
Barlow is among 11 people in the Utah-based FLDS Church accused in a food stamp fraud case that prosecutors claim exceeds $12 million. They're accused of ordering FLDS members to hand over Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to church leaders to do with as they wished. Federal prosecutors have claimed that while children went hungry, FLDS leaders lived large -- polygamist leader Lyle Jeffs (a brother of Warren Jeffs) ate shrimp and lobster and used food stamp money for a luxury car and spending cash.
FOX 13 first reported that FBI agents believe Lyle Jeffs used a substance like olive oil to slip out of his GPS monitoring device and escape home confinement. FLDS bishops Seth Jeffs and John Wayman are due in federal court next week on accusations they violated their pre-trial release conditions. Federal prosecutors allege the two met in secret, under orders from Warren Jeffs.
Read the filing by Preston Barlow's attorney here: