Seth Jeffs, a polygamous sect leader who has been charged with fraud, claimed on Tuesday that if he had not shared goods that were purchased with food stamps, it would prohibit him and others from living their religion and being a part of heaven.
Jeffs and 10 other suspects in the case are accused of food stamp fraud and money laundering. They are attempting to persuade a Utah judge that they were merely following religious practices of communal living and not breaking the law.
LATEST | Polygamist leader: Communal living key part of religion. Seth Jeffs is accused of food stamp fraud.https://t.co/fm7tiLHf56
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The courtroom in Salt Lake City was packed on Tuesday with lawyers, defendants, and attendees who simply wanted to witness the scene. Some of the sect members sat in one corner of the courtroom, and many were wearing the typical attire, including prairie dresses and updos. Each suspect in the case has their own individual attorney, which resulted in approximately 15 lawyers going before the judge during questioning of witnesses. It was reportedly a unique occurrence.
The Associated Press shares details in regards to the defendants’ take on the matter.
“Seth Jeffs testified that they believe everything on earth belongs to God, which is why members must donate everything they own to a community storehouse. The group’s leaders decide how best to redistribute the goods. The ‘law of consecration’ is based on early Mormon beliefs from the 1800s, he said. ‘Every person has the privilege to turn everything they have in because we believe all is not ours,’ said Seth Jeffs, who runs the group’s South Dakota compound and is a brother of the group’s imprisoned leader, Warren Jeffs. ‘All belongs to Heavenly Father.'”
The cross-examination of Seth Jeffs involved prosecutor Robert Lund, who went through a list of rules regarding food stamps to indicate that Jeffs was aware of the rules set by the program. Prosecution then asked Jeffs if he had asked for religious accommodation from the government, and Jeffs responded by stating he did not know he had to.
Seth Jeffs and one other defendant are behind bars as the case proceeds, and each wore jail jumpsuits while their hands and feet were cuffed.
— Tribune Polygamy (@TribunePolygamy) October 4, 2016
The prosecution has also uncovered acts that saw sect leaders living lavishly while lower-ranking followers suffered. United States District Judge Ted Stewart in Salt Lake City is making the decision as to whether food stamp rules are a burden on the suspects and their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The judge has already communicated to attorneys that he is struggling to understand how it was that the suspects had a burden when they didn’t personally need the food stamps. The defense attorneys shared that it was their clients’ families, including wives and children, who benefited from the food stamps.
There was one important suspect who was not in attendance at the court hearing. Lyle Jeffs, who is the highest-ranking leader arrested in the fraud bust, has been a fugitive for over three months since he managed to remove his GPS ankle monitor and escape house arrest in the Salt Lake City area. There is an FBI reward of $50,000 for information leading to his capture.
The AP shares about the sect and how they have altered their foundation over the years.
“The sect, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is based on the Utah-Arizona border. They believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven — a legacy of the early Mormon church. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.”
The hearing is scheduled for two days. It’s unknown if Judge Stewart will rule from the bench or at a later date. If he rules for the defense, it could toss out part of the case.
All defendants have pleaded not guilty to food stamp fraud and money laundering.
[Feature Image by George Frey/Getty Images]