SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Aug. 12, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — Federal prosecutors are firing back after attorneys for FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs argued fraud and money-launder charges against their client should be dropped.
The charges are related to alleged abuse of Federal $12 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, known more commonly as food stamps). Prosecutors say it was awarded to needy members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but used illegally to benefit its top leaders.
Jeffs is currently a fugitive after escaping from home confinement in mid-June.
Jeffs and others charged reportedly told members to donate their food stamps or buy food at FLDS stores, then to turn in food purchased to the church’s storehouse.
Jeffs’ attorneys had argued that sharing food supplies and distributing them communally is a tenet of the FLDS church, so is a freedom of religion issue, which offers them First Amendment protection.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday filed a response that noted the illegal use of food stamps to purchase non-food items.
“Examples of the non-food items purchased with SNAP proceeds include paper products, a John Deere tractor, and a 2012 Ford F-350 truck,” the response states.
The food stamps, intended to provide a nutritious diet to qualified recipients, were not used to give church members nutritious food.
“The Storehouse rarely, if ever, provided the quality or quantity of food requested or necessary to feed the members a nutritious diet,” the statement continues.
“Members rarely received fruit, vegetables, or meat, and often lived off of rice and tomato sauce or plain toast,” it said.
Unlike the general congregation, the families of Jeffs and co-defendent John Wayman were allowed to use foods stamps to buy goods from markets not owned by the FLDS church, and also were given the best of what was in the storehouse, according to testimony.
“They also received preferential treatment at the Storehouse, receiving the best available food, and were given priority over other families,” the response stated.
“While other members rarely got meat or vegetables, Jeffs’ family ate meat with nearly every meal and Lyle would get salads when he was watching his weight. Wayman’s family also received food from the Storehouse before other families, which led to shortages.
“Finally, Jeffs used the Storehouse as his personal bank, using SNAP proceeds to purchase a luxury vehicle and as spending cash.”
The prosecution also noted case law suggesting Jeffs has the burden of proof to show evidence that his actions were motivated by strongly held religious beliefs rather than commercial gain. Jeffs has produced no evidence of his religious sincerity, the prosecuting attorney’s response said.
Jeffs’ trail is set for October.