Prosecutors seeking 5 years for polygamous leader Lyle Jeffs

This frame grab from KSFY Television video shows polygamous sect leader Lyle Jeffs arriving at the federal courthouse, June 15, 2017, in Sioux Falls, S.D. Jeffs was captured in South Dakota while apparently living out of his pickup truck after nearly a year on the run. Authorities had been hunting for Jeffs since he escaped home confinement in Utah on June 18, 2016, ahead of his trial in an alleged multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme. | KSFY Television via AP, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Federal prosecutors want a 5-year prison sentence for a polygamous sect leader who pleaded guilty in a food-stamp fraud and escape case.

Prosecutors argued in court documents filed Friday that Lyle Jeffs should serve the maximum sentence because he ran the scheme to divert some $11 million in food-stamp benefits to a communal storehouse and front companies.

Lyle Jeffs booking photo, Davis County Jail, Utah, Feb. 23, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Davis County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Defense attorneys have said those charged were following religious beliefs in communal living under the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Cases against 10 other defendants have ended in plea deals without prison time or dismissed charges.

Jeffs is set to be sentenced Dec. 13. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit benefits fraud and failure to appear. He has also agreed to pay $1 million in restitution, which must come from him personally, not the FLDS.

The 57-year-old Jeffs was arrested nearly a year after he escaped home confinement while awaiting trial in the food-stamp fraud case.

Jeffs struck a deal with federal prosecutors Sept. 20 in U.S. District Court, where he pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud and failing to appear in court. As part of the deal, a third charge alleging conspiracy to commit money laundering was dismissed.

Defendants in the case had allegedly ordered FLDS members to hand over Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to a church warehouse where leaders decided how to distribute products to followers. The food stamp benefits were also allegedly cashed at sect-owned stores without the users getting anything in return.

Jeffs, once a bishop in the FLDS Church, became a fugitive from those charges after he fled home confinement to carry out the dictates of Warren Jeffs, according to federal prosecutors. Lyle Jeffs went on the run in June 2016 after a judge released him to home confinement pending trial.

Warren Jeffs, who is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years since his 2011 conviction on crimes related to marrying and sexually abusing underage girls he considered brides, continues to dictate the actions of the polygamous sect’s adherents, either through fear or loyalty, prosecutors say.

After nearly a year on the run, Lyle Jeffs was captured in South Dakota after he pawned a Leatherman multitool for $37 cash. A pawn shop employee recognized Jeffs and called police.

Authorities said Jeffs was alone and had been living out of his pickup truck at the time of his arrest.

St. George News contributed to this story.

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • DRT December 2, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Five years? Don’t make us laugh! I doubt he will even have five years probation, let alone five years in prison.

  • Sedona December 2, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Well, I guess five years is all they got, but fifty years would have been better.

  • mmsandie December 2, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    What a jok3 is right. They bought new vans and computers with the money,,every time I see them at Costco, or stores I tell people we pay for everything they buy..they donmt work, have babies.. things sho7kd change..

  • ladybugavenger December 3, 2017 at 6:17 am

    Unbelievable! A place where you can have a cult and have the tax payers pay for your new cars, food, housing, and use children for labor to build a compound…..

    One would think that the tax paying non flds, would have more say how there money is used.

  • Real Life December 3, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    Nevermind the whole pedophelia thing. This guy is getting off easy for one reason, and one reason only, because of the “good book” that guides him. You Mormons are something else.

  • riccie December 5, 2017 at 7:49 am

    I sure would like to know if this had been prosecuted in another State would the penalties have been higher/ lower or the same?

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