On the EDge: FLDS leader on the run again, only this time it’s Lyle Jeffs

Foreground polygamous leader Lyle Jeffs. Jeffs fled house arrest pending trial in a food stamps fraud case sometime over the weekend of June 18-19. | Composite image St. George News

OPINION – The leader of the FLDS Church is on the run, again.

Only this time, it’s Lyle Jeffs instead of his brother Warren who the police will have to pick up and haul back to jail.

Lyle Jeffs, who took the reins of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when his brother went to prison, fled from a residence somewhere in Utah County over the weekend after a federal judge released him from jail where he was to await an October trial on federal charges of food stamp fraud.

He was arrested in February and held without bail until his attorney, Kathryn Nester, convinced U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart, during June 9 arguments, that it would be unfair to keep him incarcerated until trial.

Stewart released Jeffs on the condition that he remained in Salt Lake County, wore a GPS monitor and had no contact with any witnesses, alleged victims, 10 co-defendants or his brother, Warren, who is serving a life-plus-20 sentence in a Texas prison for sex crimes committed when he married two young girls, one 12, the other 14.


Read more: FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs on the run after fleeing house arrest


For the record, the hard right doesn’t view Stewart as a liberal, soft-on-crime judge. Although nominated in 1999 by President Clinton, it was a quid pro quo arrangement. A friend of Sen. Orrin Hatch, Stewart previously served as an administrative assistant to former Rep. Jim Hansen, one of Utah’s most conservative representatives, and as chief of staff for former Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, a stalwart Republican. Clinton appointed Stewart in a solely political move to appease Senate Republicans who were stalling Clinton’s other judicial appointments. It became a controversial issue, however, when Hatch demanded that Stewart be pushed to the head of the line for Senate confirmation in front of the other nominees, triggering a Democratic filibuster of his confirmation.

Booking photo of Lyle Jeffs, Weber County Sheriff's Office, Utah, 2016 | Photo courtesy of the FBI Salt Lake City Division; St. George News
Booking photo of Lyle Jeffs, Weber County Sheriff’s Office, Utah, 2016 | Photo courtesy of the FBI Salt Lake City Division; St. George News

Stewart now finds himself with egg on his face for not keeping Lyle Jeffs behind bars.

I don’t understand why he didn’t see this one coming.

When charges began to mount in Texas, Utah and Arizona, Warren Jeffs went into hiding. It took law enforcement more than a year to find him. He was finally arrested near Las Vegas during a traffic stop by a Nevada State Trooper.

At one point he was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, along with terrorist Osama bin Laden.

When arrested he had more than $55,000 in cash plus credit and ATM cards at his disposal. Money was never a problem while he was evading arrest.

And, money will surely not be a problem for his brother Lyle.

The FLDS Church, despite the recent court rulings against it, is still flush with cash, rock star cash, which means Lyle has the ways and means to stay on the lam for a long time, an argument prosecutors made to try to persuade Stewart to leave him in jail until his trial. Given his vast resources – people, money, safe houses, transportation – he was clearly a flight risk.

To those who have studied and understand this polygamist cult it was a no-brainer. It was never a matter of if he would run, just a question of when it would happen.

Under ordinary circumstances, I could understand why a judge would be reluctant to keep somebody locked up for nine months before going to trial. We are, after all, a nation where everybody is presumed innocent until proven guilty. We are a nation of law and rights to protect the innocent and ensure fair treatment of the guilty. We are a nation of civility. We don’t fling people into dark holes and leave them there to languish, at least not without good reason.

But, the authorities also like to ensure that those charged with a crime show up for trial, which is why setting bail can be a dicey proposition and why, in some instances, it is denied.

That’s why I was shocked by Stewart’s decision.

Didn’t he know who he was dealing with? Didn’t he know how much money Lyle Jeffs had at his fingertips? Didn’t he know that there are enough believers out there willing to house, feed, clothe, hide or transport him to keep him out of jail?

We’ve also witnessed a growing anti-government menace erupt in the time since Warren Jeffs took to the road.

This June 9, 2016, photo shows FLDS Church members leaving federal court after their leader, Lyle Jeffs, was released from custody and placed under house arrest pending trial in a food stamps fraud case. Salt Lake City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Image by and courtesy of Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News; St. George News | Read the full story here
This June 9, 2016, photo shows FLDS Church members leaving federal court after their leader, Lyle Jeffs, was released from custody and placed under house arrest pending trial in a food stamps fraud case. Salt Lake City, Utah, June 9, 2016 | Image by and courtesy of Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News; St. George News | Read the full story here

Will the same forces, who went nose to nose with the feds in Bunkerville, Nevada, and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, decide to make a stand with Lyle?

It’s possible, but I would be more concerned about the Mormon fundamentalists.

You see, in the greater context, they have been raised, cradle-to-grave, that the prophet is infallible; that their route to eternal salvation is decided by their fealty to church leaders and elders; that the Gentile world is wicked and evil and must be repelled.

They have the Warren Jeffs experience under their belt now and could be more agitated, more angered, more aggressive than they were when he was on the run.

If nothing else, they have a proven network in place for money drops, fake IDs, safe houses and the like to abet Lyle’s flight from justice.

He will become the cult’s newest martyr and they will make willing sacrifices in his name.

But, ultimately, it will all be futile because as I heard in a movie one time, “Brains will only get you so far and luck always runs out.”

So, Lyle, unless you can pull off a D.B. Cooper, enjoy your road trip because when you get home, you are going to be put away for a very long time.

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Ed. note: Clarification made 11:29 a.m.: The author’s original text referred to the Mormon fundamentalist church not the Mormon Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; the sentence in the third paragraph has been edited for clarity.

Email: edkociela.mx@gmail.com

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

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14 Comments

  • .... June 21, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Psssst. we already know that !

  • Tmoney June 21, 2016 at 8:38 am

    They are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.. Not called the Mormon Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

    • 42214 June 21, 2016 at 11:29 am

      They’re all the same, one is just a “little” more hard core.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic June 21, 2016 at 11:30 am

      So edited for clarity; thank you Tmoney.
      Ed. note: Clarification made 11:29 a.m.: The author’s original text referred to the Mormon fundamentalist church not the Mormon Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; the sentence in the third paragraph has been edited for clarity.
      ST. GEORGE NEWS
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

  • Henry June 21, 2016 at 11:01 am

    “I would be more concerned about the Mormon fundamentalists.” Really Ed? You really think that they’re a widespread threat to public safety? It’s the fundamentalists of another faith (AKA the “religion of peace”) that are responsible for the mass shootings that have been taking place in the U.S. and around the world.

    • Bob June 21, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      we need to respect the diversity that muslims bring, and killing non-muslims is a natural part of their culture. we need to value diversity. If u disagree u are a racist!

  • Curtis June 21, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Linking the FLDS with the Bundy types seems a stretch to me. The Bundy-ites believe in bleeding the beast but I was of the impression the FLDS just want to exploit govt largess.
    In all the run ins between FLDS and law enforcement as there ever been an indication the FLDS were prepared to be violent?

  • SteveSGU June 21, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Except for the “Mormon Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” in your unclear “clarification,” this article was well written, and you understand FLDS culture better than the judge does.

  • tcrider June 21, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    The Baptists scare me as bad as any extremist Jihad, or Plig
    The Pligs are scary if your a kid and focus mostly on welfare fraud,
    The Baptists are evolving into something as bad as the Jihad.

  • anybody home June 21, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Mormon yahoos always run. And other Mormons protect them. Stewart knew this and also knew that Jeffs comes from a culture of “runnin’ from the law.” Nothing to see here…move along. Laughing all the way. Does anything useful ever happen in Utah? Seems like it’s just a passel of yahoos doing the same stupid illegal things over and over again. What a joke the people of Utah are on both sides of the law.

    • .... June 21, 2016 at 10:22 pm

      Well if you don’t like it. Leave ! nobody says you have to live in Utah. I heard there is a lot happening in Arizona. what the hay ! go check it out

  • 42214 June 22, 2016 at 9:03 am

    Hey Ed, Jeffs could go to one of your sanctuary cities and live happily ever after if he changes his name to Martinez or Sanchez.

  • .... June 23, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Those are good names . so is Jesus LOL !

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