Rearrested FLDS leaders in welfare fraud case had thousands in cash, feds say

Deseret News, Utah/August 8, 2016

By Dennis Romboy

Salt Lake City — Two Fundamentalist LDS Church leaders back in custody after allegedly breaking the terms of their pretrial release agreement had thousands of dollars in cash in their cars when they were arrested last week, federal authorities say.

And apparently running the FLDS Church from a Texas prison cell, Warren Jeffs removed his fugitive brother, Lyle Jeffs, as presiding bishop of the Short Creek Stake and replaced him with another brother.

In addition, Jeffs directed the new bishop, Nephi Jeffs, to appoint Seth Jeffs, another brother of Warren Jeffs, and John Wayman as his counselors or assistants, according to a government memorandum filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

Federal prosecutors cite those among the reasons to keep Seth Jeffs and Wayman behind bars. The two men were arrested last week for allegedly breaking the terms of their release from jail before going on trial for food stamp fraud.

The government contends Seth Jeffs and Wayman met four times last month in violation of a court order to not have contact with potential witnesses or co-defendants in the case.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled Tuesday for Seth Jeffs. Wayman's hearing was postponed to Aug. 22 at the request of his lawyer.

At the time of their arrests last Monday, Wayman had $29,000 in cash in his car and a set of out-of-state license plates, and Seth Jeffs had $8,000 in his car, court document say.

Warren Jeffs has a policy of defying courts or other authorities when they conflict with his views regarding the laws of God, according to prosecutors, and Wayman and Seth Jeffs are faithful adherents who view him as a prophet.

Both men have a well-documented history of obstructing justice at the direction of the imprisoned polygamous leader, and Seth Jeffs has a felony conviction related to previous obstruction, court documents say.

"The evidence, including the defendants’ past conduct, well establishes that when the dictates of their prophet conflict with an order of the court, the defendants will follow their religious leader in contravention of the court’s order," prosecutors wrote.

Federal prosecutors also say Warren Jeffs directed Nephi Jeffs, Seth Jeffs and Wayman to compile a list of former United Order members to interview for re-baptism into the order.

To do that, they met surreptitiously at a Short Creek meetinghouse at 1 a.m., according to prosecutors. Authorities say GPS monitoring shows the men met on July 26, 28, 29, and 30, and that Preston Barlow, who also was arrested last week for allegedly violating pretrial release conditions, attended the July 29 meeting.

Many of those former United Order members consecrated their federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits to the church as alleged in the indictment, according to court documents. Prosecutor say that raises substantial concerns that the defendants will tamper with prospective witnesses.

"The government is acutely aware of dictates from the church leadership to prospective witnesses in other cases, in relation to interaction with the government, to 'answer them nothing,'" prosecutors wrote.

Seth Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs, Wayman and Barlow are among 11 FLDS members who were charged in February with misusing food stamps and diverting the money to front companies and buy equipment. They have pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart released Wayman, Seth Jeffs, and Lyle Jeffs, the previous presiding bishop, from custody earlier this year over prosecutors' objections, though with GPS monitoring.

Lyle Jeffs apparently used olive oil to slip off his GPS ankle monitor and flee a Salt Lake County home where he was living last month. Authorities have not found him.

The government says Lyle Jeffs has an extensive support network, including houses of hiding, sophisticated communications systems and substantial financial and transportation resources. Prosecutors say the exhaustive manhunt is an extreme detriment to their trial preparations.

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