ST. GEORGE — A federal grand jury has issued a new indictment against Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints polygamous sect leader Lyle Steed Jeffs.
Jeffs, who had been on the run from authorities for nearly a year prior to his recent arrest, has been charged with a new felony count for failure to appear. Prosecutors filed the charge in federal court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
If convicted, Jeffs could potentially face up to 10 years in prison on the new charge.
Jeffs escaped from home confinement in Salt Lake City in June 2016 but was picked up by law enforcement in South Dakota last week after he pawned two pairs of pliers.
Authorities said Jeffs was alone and had been living out of his truck at the time of his arrest.
Before absconding last year, Jeffs was awaiting trial on accusations he helped orchestrate a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme within the FLDS church. Jeffs is still facing two felony charges in that matter.
Jeffs and other leaders were accused of instructing followers to buy items with their food stamp cards and give them to a church warehouse where leaders decided how to distribute products to followers, diverting at least $12 million worth of federal benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah John Huber said Thursday that Jeffs’ flight from prosecution and his fugitive status will undoubtedly play a significant part in his upcoming prosecution.
Jeffs’ 11 co-defendants resolved their cases by pleading guilty to felony or misdemeanor charges. All avoided jail time or paying restitution.
Because he fled prosecution, Huber said Jeffs won’t likely be offered a plea deal.
Officials have always viewed Lyle Jeffs as the lead defendant in the food stamp fraud case, Huber said last week, noting that the prosecution’s approach with Jeffs “will in no way resemble the way we have handled and processed the other defendants in this case.”
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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