Ex-wife of polygamous church leader testifies at discrimination trial

The Salt Lake Tribune/January 27, 2016

By Nate Carlisle

Phoenix -- She hadn't met Lyle Jeffs until she was about to marry him.

Once Charlene Wall married him, they had, she testified Wednesday, "a wonderful life together."

"Being in the FLDS was not what it is now," said Charlene Wall Jeffs, as she introduced herself to a Phoenix courtroom from the witness stand Wednesday.

She has since divorced Lyle Jeffs, the man running the day-to-day operations of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The U.S. Justice Department called Charlene Jeffs as a witness in its discrimination lawsuit against the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., collectively known as Short Creek. The Justice Department alleges the two municipal governments collude with the church to discriminate against people who are not FLDS.

While a few wives have testified in proceedings against the FLDS through the years — including two of Charlene Jeffs' half-sisters — Charlene Jeffs may be the first who was legally married to someone so high in the FLDS hierarchy. Lyle Jeffs is believed to have eight other spiritual wives.

Charlene Jeffs, 50, told the jury that her parents joined the FLDS when she was 2 years old and that she grew up in the Salt Lake Valley.

"It was really good, growing up," she said of the FLDS. "It was all about family, about love."

FLDS members were taught that if the government apprehended them, they should agree with their captor until their release, she said. Then they could resume how they were living before.

Justice Department attorney Sean Keveney asked her whether that mean it was OK to lie to the government.

"I wouldn't say a flat, black lie," Charlene Jeffs said, "but a white one, yes."

Her marriage at age 18 to Lyle Jeffs was arranged. The couple went on to have 10 children. They lived in the Salt Lake Valley until 2001, when the faithful were ordered by her father-in-law, then-FLDS President Rulon Jeffs, to move to Short Creek. Rulon Jeffs and his son Warren told the people that the 2002 Winter Olympics would bring about a rapture in the Salt Lake Valley.

Rulon Jeffs died in 2002, and Warren Jeffs ascended to FLDS prophet. That is when things began to change, Charlene Jeffs testified. Warren Jeffs eventually banned sex between spouses and said men and women should be separated.

When Warren Jeffs was a federal fugitive in 2005, Charlene Jeffs helped account for money the faithful were donating to him and the church. She would enter the offerings into a spreadsheet program.

The offerings she recorded included those from Hildale and Colorado City marshals and from town officials, she testified. She said she also saw cash being inspected for sequential serial numbers.

Such bills were put aside, and Lyle Jeffs would take them to a casino, buy chips, remain there an hour and then cash out, Charlene Jeffs testified.

In 2010, Warren Jeffs, from jail cells in Texas, created the United Order, an elite subset of the FLDS. People in the United Order had to take an oath to not discuss it and could not live or speak with people who didn't qualify.

Charlene Jeffs said she was exiled in 2012, though she didn't say why. She was sent to live alone in a trailer in Short Creek.

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