Lyle Jeffs: FLDS Leader Flees Amid Food Stamp Fraud Trial

FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs escaped from his home in Salt Lake City, Utah, fewer than 14 days after he was placed on house arrest. The polygamous sect leader was recently permitted to return to his home while awaiting trial for a multi-million dollar food stamp scheme. Although he was granted permission to leave his home for doctors appointments and employment purposes, he was ordered to surrender his passport and wear an ankle monitor at all times.

A warrant was issued for the 56-year-old man after he left his home on Sunday afternoon without prior permission.

According to Daily Mail, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart released the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from jail on June 9, against the prosecutor’s recommendation. Although the judge ordered him to stay in Salt Lake City, which was more than 300 miles away from his community at the Utah-Arizona border, prosecutors argued that it simply was not enough.

Prosecutors deemed Lyle Jeffs a flight risk and argued that witnesses in the high-profile case would not testify if the defendant was released.

In April, the judge aligned with prosecutors and refused to release the FLDS leader. In his ruling, the judge admitted Lyle could not be trusted because he has a history of eluding law enforcement and using aliases.

However, Jeffs’ attorney Kathryn Nester insisted it was against her client’s constitutional rights to be jailed without trial.

Prior to his arrest, Lyle Jeffs was in charge of running daily church operations in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. In February, he was arrested and charged with diverting at least $12 million in federal benefits.

Prosecutors said Lyle and other FLDS leaders instructed their followers to purchase items with food stamp cards and take them to a church warehouse — where they were redistributed and resold.

FBI investigators said FLDS followers were observed using their benefit cards to purchase food from sect-owned stores, including Meadowdale Dairy in Colorado City, Arizona. They were then observed taking the items to a community store to be resold.

All 10 defendants named in the federal case pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges as well as fraud. They were all released from jail after complying with court conditions. However, fewer than two weeks later Lyle Jeffs fled his home.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch refused to disclose specific details as to how the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sect escaped the confines of his home.

The F.B.I. is leading the investigation into the 56-year-old fugitive’s escape and has asked the public to provide any information about Lyle Jeff’s whereabouts.

Private investigator Sam Brower, who kept tabs on the FLDS sect for years, believes Lyle is still in the region. In his opinion, prosecutors were correct in their attempt to label the leader as a flight risk. “Why the court would every think the guy in charge of this criminal organization would not run is beyond me. The world needs to stop thinking about them as a religious group,” he said.

High ranking members of the church have expressed disappointment with Lyle’s disappearance. Wallace Jeffs, Lyle’s half-brother, said “blame the judge for this. Everybody knew that he was going to do this… everybody.” He added that it could be incredibly difficult to catch his half-brother because he owns a ranch in South-America.

Lyle Jeffs is the brother of Warren Jeffs, who is also a leader in the FLDS sect. Warren’s followers believe the is a prophet sent by God, who assumed full control of the church after the death of his father, Rulon.

As reported by CNN, the leader of the a splinter group, which broke away from mainstream Mormonism, was sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two girls, who were 15 and 12 when the crimes occurred.

Prosecutors contend Warren Jeffs used his position as head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to fuel his perverted appetites and desires. According to evidence presented in court, Warren Jeffs told one of the victims “take off your clothes… don’t think about the pain, you’re going to heaven.”

Although Lyle Jeffs’ crimes are much different, they are being taken seriously by the F.B.I. Anyone with information about the FLDS leader’s whereabouts is encouraged to contact law enforcement officials immediately.

[Image via TDMuldoon/Shutterstock]

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