Lyle Jeffs is the former bishop of a polygamist Mormon sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jeffs is also the brother of former FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of the sexual assault of a minor in 2011,
Jeffs spent one year as a fugitive from the FBI after Utah prosecutors indicted him and 11 other FLDS members of defrauding the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. He was given a five-year prison sentence after he was re-captured.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Was A Bishop in FLDS
Jeffs was described as taking over day-to-day operations after Warren went to prison. He is listed in some court documents as a “special counselor” to Warren and a church bishop, according to the Utah newspaper, Deseret.
Dowayne Barlow, described by High Country News as Lyle Jeffs’ aide, testified against the Jeffs. According to Barlow, Jeffs ordered him to “reassign” the children of men who had been expelled from the church, which Barlow said he was uncomfortable with doing. After Barlow left, he said that members of FLDS threatened his wife Cheryl to return to FLDS or Jeffs would come after her.
Deseret reported that Lyle — like his brother, Warren — was “expected to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of church members.”
At Jeffs’ sentencing, his public defender, Kathryn Nester, said he had received no visits from family and had no money in his commissary account. However, Jeffs’ son Thomas was in the courtroom during his father’s sentencing and reportedly said he hoped his father would use his prison time to “think about things.”
2. One of His Wives Left with the Children
According to Thomas, he is one of 63 children that Lyle Jeffs had with seven of his wives.
One of those wives, Charlene Jeffs, was a senior member of the church and Lyle’s first wife. However, she told ABC News that she was banished from FLDS for complaining. Afterward, she filed for divorce and fought for custody of her children, then-13-year-old daughter, Suzie, and then-17-year-old son, Amin, because she didn’t want them exposed to the church anymore.
“I have two children right now that are underage that I really want to get out of that. I want to get them all out of that because I don’t believe what they’re teaching anymore,” she told ABC.
In a hearing covered by TV station KUTV, her petition was read aloud, which partially said, “Under Lyle’s reign as a substitute prophet, the FLDS church has become even more disturbing than it was under Warren.” She also said she believed they were in danger of being malnourished, under-educated and potentially sexually abused.
Nine days after she asked for a wellness check, Jeffs signed papers agreeing to give her custodial guardianship.
3. He Is Serving A Five-Year Sentence
According to BBC, prosecutors said many families living under FLDS were asked to give their food stamp benefit cards to Jeffs, he used the money to purchase cars, extravagant dinners and other luxuries.
In a pre-sentence report, prosecutors said that “While members subsisted on meager quantities of rice and noodles … (Jeffs had a) personal chef and he regularly ate prime rib, halibut, lobster, scallops, and other expensive cuisines.”
According to the indictment, Lyle’s brother, Seth, was one of the 11 others indicted in the fraud case.
A large percentage of FLDS members in the Short Creek area receive SNAP benefits, amounting to millions of dollars in benefits per year … Between 2011 and 2013, FLDS leaders directed members to divert their SNAP benefits to the FLDS Storehouse. These leaders, including Lyle Jeffs, Seth Jeffs, John Wayman and Kimball Barlow, held meetings in which they disseminated Storehouse protocols.
Lyle Jeffs was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart to 57 months in prison and three years of probation, and he was ordered to pay the U.S. Department of Agriculture $1 million in restitution, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
After his sentence, Jeffs said, “I humbly accept responsibilities for my actions.”
4. He Was A Fugitive For Nearly A Year
Jeffs was charged with the fraud and money laundering counts in 2016. However, he fled after he was allowed to await trial on a modified house arrest and with a GPS monitoring device. Authorities said they believe he used olive oil to slip the monitor off and run.
His son, Thomas, told KUTV that he believed his father had changed his appearance, gotten a “burner” phone and was living away from Utah. KUTV later reported that a pawnshop owner tipped the FBI off when Jeffs showed up to pawn two pairs of pliers.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Barnhart said Jeffs was arrested near a marina in Yankton, South Dakota and found living out of a newer Ford F-150, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Barnhart also noted that Jeffs’ decision to flee would likely add another felony charge to the multiple counts of fraud and money laundering Jeffs was already facing.
After he was caught, he was held without bond and put on a Federal Marshals Service hold, the Washington Post reported.
5. He Is Believed to Be Estranged From His Imprisoned Brother, Warren Jeffs
Lyle’s brother, Warren Jeffs, is the former president of the church who was convicted of sexual assault in 2011; many believe he is still running the church from behind bars.
In 2006, he was arrested after he was accused of arranging illegal marriages between adult males and underage girls. Shortly after, he fled authorities and was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. Months later, he was found and stood trial in Utah for incest and having sex with minors. He was also charged with crimes in connection with two sexual assault cases in 2007 in Arizona.
Warren was convicted on two counts of rape in September 2007 and given a sentence of 10 years to life, but that conviction was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court in July 2010 because the jury had been given incorrect instructions. Warren was then tried in Texas and convicted of the sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of children. He was sentenced to more than 20 years.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the brothers’ relationship became strained shortly after Lyle was charged with fraud; documents filed in court described a “falling-out” between the two.
Lyle’s son, Thomas told KUTV that he believed Warren cut his father off financially and ordered the remaining FLDS members not to help him from jail because he had not followed Warren’s orders, which is part of the reason for their estrangement.
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