SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 12, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — Attorneys on Tuesday filed a motion for charges to be dropped against Lyle Steed Jeffs — the fugitive leader of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — claiming those charges violate Jeffs’ right to religious freedom.
Jeffs and 10 others have pleaded not guilty to fraud and money-launder charges, brought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which hold that Jeffs and others diverted at least $12 million in Federal funds awarded to individual church members who were approved for food stamps benefits.
FBI investigators say that Jeffs and others instructed those recipients to buy goods at FLDS-owned stores with the food stamp cards, then donate those items to the church warehouse for illegal redistribution to members as church leaders saw fit.
Another practice was to illegally divert funds to front companies for the purchase of a tractors, trucks and other large, non-food items, according to FBI information.
Jeffs’ latest motion to U.S. District Court holds that sharing of supplies is a key doctrine in his religion, which has long practiced the “co-mingling assets,” known by the early LDS Church as the “United Order.”
The motion states that Jeffs “donates his livelihood, property, and time to the Community Storehouse and relies on and survives on Community Storehouse donations,” as do others in his religious community.
Jeffs’ lawyers on June 9 won him jail release and home confinement pending his trial, currently set for October, despite arguments that Jeffs was a flight risk.
Jeffs fled an estimated nine days later, and has not been apprehended.
FBI agents believe Jeffs used a lubricant, such as olive oil, to slip out of his GPS tracking bracelet without damaging it, which would have alerted authorities.
Lyle Jeffs is the younger brother of former FLDS Church leader Warren Jeffs, who, after initially fleeing prosecution, was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual abuse in connection with arrangement of illegal marriages between adult male followers and under-aged girls. He is now serving life plus 20 years.