Polygamous church leaders indicted, arrested for food stamp fraud
Lyle Jeffs, who has been running the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for his imprisoned brother, has been arrested and indicted on food stamp fraud charges, the U.S. Attorney for Utah announced Tuesday.
The indictment was unsealed the same day FBI and sheriffs deputies searched businesses in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., that are owned by members of the FLDS.
Also indicted was Seth Jeffs, brother to both Lyle and FLDS President Warren Jeffs, the religion's president and prophet, who is serving a sentence of up to life in prison plus 20 years in Texas for crimes related to marrying and sexually abusing underage girls.
Hildale and Colorado City, collectively known as Short Creek, are home to the FLDS church. Isaac Wyler, a former member of the church, said it appears to be the largest law enforcement raid in the towns since 1953, when Arizona authorities arrived to arrest polygamists.
"There are officers all over town," Wyler said.
Jeffs and a number of other FLDS Church leaders — in Utah and in South Dakota — were arrested Tuesday, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
They are accused of conspiracy to commit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, the new release states.
Church leaders "diverted SNAP proceeds from authorized beneficiaries to leaders of the FLDS Church for use by ineligible beneficiaries and for unapproved purposes," prosecutors allege.
A large percentage of FLDS Church members living in Short Creek receive SNAP benefits, amounting to millions of dollars in benefits per year, the news release said.
"This indictment is not about religion. This indictment is about fraud," U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said in the news release. "This indictment charges a sophisticated group of individuals operating in the Hildale-Colorado City community who conspired to defraud a program intended to help low income individuals and families purchase food."
Charged in the indictment are Lyle Steed Jeffs, 56, John Clifton Wayman, 56, Kimball Dee Barlow, 51, Winford Johnson Barlow, 50, Rulon Mormon Barlow, 45, Ruth Peine Barlow, 41, and Preston Yates Barlow, 41, all of Hildale.
Also charged are Nephi Steed Allred, 40, Hyrum Bygnal Dutson, 55, and Kristal Meldrum Dutson, 55, all of Colorado City; and Seth Steed Jeffs, 42, of Custer, South Dakota.
In the physical absence of Warren Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs handles the daily affairs of the organization, including its financial matters, prosecutors said. Another of Warren Jeffs' brothers, Seth Jeffs, leads a congregation of FLDS members in rural Custer County, South Dakota. Arrest warrants were issued for all defendants charged in the indictment.
Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, who helped initiate the investigation and has officers participating on the FBI's Public Corruption Task Force, emphasized the role his local investigators played in starting the investigation.
"What started as a small investigation quickly grew to a point where it was important to work with federal agencies to build a case to present to a grand jury," Pulsipher said.
"Today's indictment is the culmination of the tireless efforts of the FBI Public Corruption Task Force, which includes the IRS Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General, the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Washington County Attorney's Office," said Eric Barnhart, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Salt Lake City Field Office.
"The violations included in the indictment are especially egregious since they allege that leaders of the conspiracy directed others to commit crimes, for which only certain people benefited. This type of conduct represents nothing less than pure theft. The FBI and its law enforcement partners will actively pursue those entities or persons who unlawfully manipulate and control government programs for their own gain," Barnhart said.
"IRS Criminal Investigation uses its financial expertise to unravel complex financial transactions and money laundering schemes designed to conceal the true source of funds," stated Acting Special Agent in Charge Aimee Schabilion. "We are committed to working with our federal agency partners in combatting frauds against the government."
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