SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Federal prosecutors want a 5-year prison sentence for a polygamous sect leader who pleaded guilty in a food-stamp fraud and escape case.
Prosecutors argued in court documents filed Friday that Lyle Jeffs should serve the maximum sentence because he ran the scheme to divert some $11 million in food-stamp benefits to a communal storehouse and front companies.
Defense attorneys have said those charged were following religious beliefs in communal living under the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Cases against 10 other defendants have ended in plea deals without prison time or dismissed charges.
Jeffs is set to be sentenced Dec. 13. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit benefits fraud and failure to appear. He has also agreed to pay $1 million in restitution, which must come from him personally, not the FLDS.
The 57-year-old Jeffs was arrested nearly a year after he escaped home confinement while awaiting trial in the food-stamp fraud case.
Jeffs struck a deal with federal prosecutors Sept. 20 in U.S. District Court, where he pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud and failing to appear in court. As part of the deal, a third charge alleging conspiracy to commit money laundering was dismissed.
Defendants in the case had allegedly ordered FLDS members to hand over Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to a church warehouse where leaders decided how to distribute products to followers. The food stamp benefits were also allegedly cashed at sect-owned stores without the users getting anything in return.
Jeffs, once a bishop in the FLDS Church, became a fugitive from those charges after he fled home confinement to carry out the dictates of Warren Jeffs, according to federal prosecutors. Lyle Jeffs went on the run in June 2016 after a judge released him to home confinement pending trial.
Warren Jeffs, who is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years since his 2011 conviction on crimes related to marrying and sexually abusing underage girls he considered brides, continues to dictate the actions of the polygamous sect’s adherents, either through fear or loyalty, prosecutors say.
After nearly a year on the run, Lyle Jeffs was captured in South Dakota after he pawned a Leatherman multitool for $37 cash. A pawn shop employee recognized Jeffs and called police.
Authorities said Jeffs was alone and had been living out of his pickup truck at the time of his arrest.
St. George News contributed to this story.
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