SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Dec. 13, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — A U.S. federal judge has sentenced FLDS church leader Lyle Jeffs, who was charged in a Food Stamp fraud case.
Jeffs must serve 57 months (four years, nine months) in prison. Of that, 45 months were for the fraud case, and 12 months were for his failure to appear in court when he escaped home confinement and spent nearly a year as a fugitive. Following the completion of his prison time, Jeffs will be on probation for three years. He also was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which manages the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, more commonly known by its former name, Food Stamps.
Jeffs is a former bishop in polygamist sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and brother to top church leader Warren Jeffs, who was sentenced to life plus 20 years after his conviction on counts of child sexual assault.
Federal prosecutors considered Lyle Jeffs to be the leader in the fraud scheme, which cost taxpayers more than $12 million.
Judge Ted Stewart told Jeffs he not only cheated taxpayers by improper use of federal funds, he did harm to his FLDS community. Many went hungry after they were coerced into donating their Food Stamps to the church, Stewart said. Some suffered hunger or even malnutrition while Jeffs lived well, Stewart said.
The judge also said Jeffs put his religion above the law, and followed the orders of his brother even when he knew they were wrong.
Jeffs told Stewart he acknowledged his mistakes, adding “I humbly accept responsibilities for my actions.”
Ten other FLDS defendants were charged in the case. John Wayman, another former FLDS bishop, and Seth Jeffs, Lyle’s brother, pleaded guilty to felonies and received credit for time served, and were released from jail immediately following their pleas.
Seven other defendants pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received no jail time or other penalties. Charges against one defendant were dropped.