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Judge releases FLDS leader from jail pending food stamp fraud trial

Lyle Jeffs ordered to remain in custody in FLDS food stamp fraud case
Lyle Jeffs ordered to remain in custody in FLDS food stamp fraud case
Davis County Sherif's Office

SALT LAKE CITY — A Fundamentalist LDS Church leader accused of helping orchestrate a multimillion dollar food stamp fraud scheme will be released from jail under strict constraints, a federal judge decided Thursday.

Attorneys for Lyle Steed Jeffs argued that keeping him behind bars pending a trial that was rescheduled from May to October is unreasonable and would violate his constitutional rights. He has been held in custody since his arrest in February.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart agreed to release Jeffs from the Iron County Jail with severe restrictions, including that he live in Salt Lake County, wear a GPS monitor and have no contact with any witnesses, alleged victims, 10 co-defendants in the case and his brother, imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Lyle Jeffs is believed to be leading the church on his brother's behalf.

Stewart also confined Lyle Jeffs to his house except for things such as work, church and court appearances.

Asked by the judge if he would comply, Jeffs replied, "Yes, your honor."

Federal public defender Kathryn Nester sought to modify the conditions because they would preclude Jeffs from interacting with family members because they are among hundreds of FLDS members who used Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cards, or SNAP cards, to buy groceries.

Prosecutor Tyler Murray objected, arguing Jeffs has been coy about his immediate family and it's difficult for investigators to identify who they are.

"If that means he has no interaction with members of the community, so be it," the judge said during a hearing attended by about 30 members of the polygamous sect.

Jeffs and 10 others face a two-count indictment of conspiracy to commit SNAP or food stamps benefits fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Murray argued that Jeffs should remain in jail because he wields enormous power in the FLDS community even while incarcerated. Jeffs, he said, has the ability to intimidate witnesses by removing them from their homes, taking away their jobs and sending them on "repentance missions."

"The threat is much greater when he is out of detention," the prosecutor said. "His conduct has ripple effects throughout the community."

Jeffs also has a history of evading law enforcement and helping others to do the same.

Stewart said he was not aware of Jeffs or his brother exerting influence on the other defendants to flee.

Attorneys on both sides say the case is complicated. They have identified 200 witnesses and 56 terabytes of information and expect the trial will last a month.

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