Fugitive polygamous sect leader arrested in South Dakota

Janie Parker
June 16, 2017

Jeffs, who fled from federal custody last summer in Utah, was arrested Wednesday night without incident at a marina near Yankton, South Dakota, the FBI said.

According to the FBI's wanted poster, Jeffs was on home confinement while awaiting trial for his alleged involvement in a food stamp fraud case when he escaped.

It is an offshoot of the mainstream Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church, which renounced polygamy in 1890 and is not affiliated with the FLDS.

Jeffs is the brother of infamous polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of child sexual assault in 2011 for his "marriages" to a 12-year-old and 15-year-old. He was being held without bond on a Federal Marshals Service hold in South Dakota's Minnehaha County, according to booking records. Prosecutors argued Mr Jeffs was a flight risk.

Warren Jeff's former mansion in Utah is being bought by the 65th of his 79 wives, Brielle Decker, who has said she hopes to make it a tourist attraction and home for people who have left the church.

Lyle Jeffs was the last of the defendants in the food stamp fraud case still behind bars when U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart reversed his earlier decision and granted Jeffs his release on June 9. The FBI said he appeared to have used olive oil to slip free from his GPS-enabled ankle monitor and go on the lam.

Jeffs however, still has eight "spiritual wives", as the sect believes polygamy brings men exaltation in heaven.

Following the charges, Jeffs escaped house arrest near Salt Lake City this time past year.

The tipster provided "very solid information", Barnhart said, adding that he knew it was just a matter of time before someone spotted Jeffs while he was on the run. Haug said if he gets a reward, he would take a vacation. He says he provided officers with store video and pawn paperwork.

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Tony Mangan, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said the Highway Patrol was asked to respond Wednesday and transported Jeffs to Sioux Falls at the request of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"This indictment is not about religion; this indictment is about fraud", U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said at the time.

Mr. Jeffs, who was facing trial for food stamp fraud previous year, took his ankle bracelet off illegally and sauntered away from Utah while out on bail.

The FLDS has a compound in Pringle, South Dakota. The government, Huber said in 2016, was charging "a sophisticated group of individuals. who conspired to defraud a program meant to help low-income individuals and families purchase food". Known to the faithful as "R23", the compound sits along a gravel road, secluded by tall pine trees, a privacy fence and a guard tower.

"The money from the alleged scheme, prosecutors say, helped finance the purchase of paper products, a tractor and a truck - all of which are ineligible under SNAP rules".

The defendants denied wrongdoing and said they were sharing food as part of their communal living practices.

"You have those times when you don't want to say, 'I told you so, ' but that's kind of where we're at", Huber said. "They feel god protected them".

The secretive group's base has caused concerns among nearby landowners in western South Dakota.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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