ST. GEORGE — Seth Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints polygamous sect in South Dakota, has been released from jail in a surprise decision Friday by U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart in Salt Lake City’s federal court.
Following his February arrest on a federal indictment alleging he was part of a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud and money laundering scheme, South Dakota Federal District Judge Danetta Wollman agreed with prosecutors that Seth Jeffs, the brother of incarcerated FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, is a flight risk.
Wollman denied Seth Jeffs’ pretrial release and ordered the South Dakota FLDS bishop be extradited to Utah to face allegations in the indictment. Seth Jeffs was scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court Monday for a detention hearing. Stewart, instead, ordered his release pending trial Friday.
In an order setting the conditions of his release, Stewart is requiring Seth Jeffs to wear a GPS ankle monitor, surrender his passport and reside in St. George for at least the next 30 days. However, he is allowed to travel to South Dakota once a month to conduct water testing if he notifies U.S. marshals first.
In the order, Stewart forbade Seth Jeffs from traveling to Colorado City, Arizona, or from having any contact with those who are considered either alleged victims, potential witnesses and/or codefendants in the case, as well as Warren Jeffs and FLDS bishop Ben Johnson.
Federal prosecutors have argued that top FLDS leaders Seth Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs, John Wayman and Nephi Allred, all of whom were named in the indictment, are a “serious flight risk” and should not be released before trial. Prosecutors allege the four men aided Warren Jeffs in evading law enforcement a decade ago and had direct access to cash and an FLDS network of houses in the U.S., western Canada, Mexico and South America.
Stewart has now released three of those four men, who were initially ordered detained by other judges.
In all, 11 FLDS members were indicted in the food stamp case. Seven defendants were released after initial jail bookings.
Seth Jeffs’ release leaves only one defendant, his brother Lyle Jeffs, still behind bars out of 11 people charged. Lyle Jeffs’ status will be reviewed Wednesday before Stewart to determine if he will remain behind bars until trial.
A four-week jury trial in the matter is scheduled for May 31. The case will be heard in Salt Lake City’s federal court before Judge Ted Stewart.
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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