ST. GEORGE — One of the 11 defendants charged in the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud case has been released from jail after striking a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Initially charged with one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the nutrition assistance program and one count of conspiracy to launder money, John Clifton Wayman, 57, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to a lesser count of using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits contrary to the law.
His plea agreement came hours after U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart rejected a request to release Wayman and Seth Jeffs – brother to imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs – from jail pending trial. The judge had agreed with federal prosecutors that the two men couldn’t be trusted to follow the court’s orders and shouldn’t be released from jail.
Wayman, a former bishop for the polygamous sect, had been in jail for six months after being arrested for violating a court order prohibiting him to have contact with other defendants. However, after the deal was signed Thursday, Wayman was immediately released from Davis County Jail with time-served.
In the plea deal with federal prosecutors, Wayman admitted in U.S. District Court that he knowingly diverted Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program benefits totaling at least $5,000 to people who weren’t eligible to receive them.
Under the deal, Wayman will not have to serve probation, does not have to pay a fine or restitution – other than a $100 court fee – and does not have to testify or cooperate with the government. Federal prosecutors and the FBI have also agreed not to pursue charges against Wayman for any other crimes that they may be aware of. He also must attend a Department of Agriculture training class on the proper use of SNAP benefits.
Wayman was among 11 defendants indicted in February on food stamp fraud and money laundering charges for allegedly diverting at least $12 million worth of food stamp benefits from FLDS members. Prosecutors had alleged that Wayman was one of the church leaders who counseled sect members to turn over their SNAP benefits to the FLDS Church.
Wayman’s plea agreement is the first among the 11 FLDS Church members charged. Other defendants are expected to follow, with the exception of Lyle Jeffs, who fled from custody in the summer. The government said no deal had been offered to Lyle Jeffs, who also served as a bishop in the FLDS Church.
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund said the resolution would help deter a “culture of fraud” in the FLDS community, FOX News reported.
“These people are extremely poor. There’s not $12 million in that community to pay restitution,” Lund told reporters outside the courthouse, adding that the government – not individual investors – was the victim. “We’re willing to eat that cost.”
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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