Polygamist leader Lyle Jeffs appeared Monday in federal court in Salt Lake City. It was the latest wrinkle in the federal case against him for alleged food-stamp fraud.
Lyle Jeffs entered a “not guilty” plea court to a new charge, failure to appear. He is leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which practices polygamy. But prosecutors say that’s not what prompted the charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert S. Lund said outside the Matheson Courthouse that Jeffs allegedly led conspiracies to launder money and steal from the government Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP.
“To us it’s important because it involves the protection of the public fisc -- these are taxpayer dollars,” he said. “It also is important to us because needy families were not getting the substance that they needed, based on the alleged fraud.”
Jeffs had pleaded guilty last year to the fraud-related charges before he slipped home confinement 13 months ago and went into hiding. He was recaptured last month after pawning tools in South Dakota.
Brenda Nicholson, a former FLDS member who observed Monday’s proceedings, saw Jeffs appear before Magistrate Judge Brook Wells as a thin, stooped man who was getting a taste of the kind of hardship he’d imposed on others in the sect.
“Until there’s actually some true legal repercussions and consequences to their actions, they’re never gonna change,” she said of efforts to prosecute FLDS leaders who allegedly participated in the scheme.
The indictment says the food-assistance money went to buying a heavy-duty pickup, a John Deere tractor and more than $500,000 in farming supplies.
Jeff’s trial for all three charges is set for September. The other ten implicated in the case have already resolved their charges, some with plea deals.