SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge ruled again Thursday that one of the accused ringleaders of a polygamous sect's multimillion dollar food stamp fraud scheme must remain behind bars.
The rejection of John Wayman's request to be allowed out on supervised release by U.S. Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead led Wayman's attorney to question whether his client and other suspects are being treated unfairly because of their religious beliefs.
Pead denied Wayman's first request to be let out two weeks ago, and he earlier this week rejected the same request from acting Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Lyle Jeffs.
They are among 11 people indicted by prosecutors on accusations the group diverted at least $12 million worth of federal benefits, funneling some money into front companies to pay for a tractor and a truck.
Defense attorney Jim Bradshaw said any other person accused in a nonviolent fraud scheme would be granted supervised release. "In spite of the court's expressing that it's not considering religion, it's clearly throughout his decision," Bradshaw said.
Pead said during the hearing in Salt Lake City that religion was not the basis for his ruling. But he acknowledged that it's concerning that the group seems to ascribe to a belief that governmental laws take a back seat to their religious beliefs.
Wayman is a member of the church based in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
Federal prosecutors have also been emphatic in saying that the bust — one of the biggest blows to the sect in years — is not about religion, but fraud.
Wayman has pleaded not guilty to the charges of fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors have allowed seven of the 11 people indicted out on supervised release, but they fought to keep Wayman, Jeffs and two others who they say were ringleaders behind bars. So far, federal judges in Arizona and South Dakota have sided with the government.
Pead said another reason he's not letting Wayman out are allegations that Wayman briefly went into hiding in the mid-2000s, a period in which he also helped imprisoned church leader Warren Jeffs evade capture.
Prosecutors argue Wayman is a risk to flee because of his unwavering loyalty to Warren Jeffs, who could instruct Wayman to go into hiding using the sect's network of houses around the country.
Bradshaw brought as witnesses four businessmen who aren't FLDS members to testify that Wayman is a reliable, honest man who wouldn't abandon a high-tech machine work business that employs nearly 100 people.
"He's the most stand-up guy in the indictment," Bradshaw said.
Federal prosecutor Tyler Murray said Wayman is not the honest man defense attorneys are trying to paint him to be. He was heavily involved in the scheme, and his family, being one of the elites in the sect, benefited from the diverted food stamp funds at the expense of poor families who were supposed to get the benefits, Murray said.
That allegation seemed to strike a chord with Pead, who said it was troubling to hear that Wayman's family were comfortable while others "were living on toast."