Polygamous leader hit with new felony charge after capture

The Associated Press/June 21, 2017

Salt Lake City — Captured polygamous sect leader Lyle Jeffs could face up to another 10 years in prison after prosecutors filed a new felony charge Wednesday connected to his nearly yearlong time on the run.

The new failure to appear count comes on top of two felony charges in a suspected multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme. Jeffs was awaiting trial on those charges when he escaped from home confinement by using olive oil to slip out of his ankle monitor in Salt Lake City on June 18, 2016.

Many of the other 10 defendants accused in the food-stamp scheme struck plea deals with federal prosecutors, but U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said Jeffs will be different.

“Disobeying court orders has consequences, and in federal court those consequences are serious,” He said in a statement Wednesday. “We intend to assert the public’s right to a speedy trial and look forward to presenting our case to the jury.”

No additional charges are expected in connection with the escape, said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah.

He’s also facing conspiracy to commit food-stamp fraud, which carries a sentence of up to five years, and money laundering, which could bring up to 10 years in prison.

Jeffs was recaptured in a small South Dakota town on June 14 after pawning two Leatherman pliers while apparently living out of his pickup truck near the South Dakota-Nebraska state line.

He had been in the area for about two weeks, running low on resources and struggling without the help of fellow sect members after falling out with his brother Warren Jeffs, who runs the group while serving a life prison sentence in Texas for sexual assault of underage brides, the FBI has said.

Their group, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is based in a small community on the Utah-Arizona border. Members of the sect believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. The group is an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.

The group has a small compound in far west South Dakota, but Lyle Jeffs was about six hours away when he was arrested.

Jeffs was the last of the defendants in the food stamp fraud case still behind bars when U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart last year in June reversed an earlier decision and granted his release.

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