Polygamist Mormon sect leader Lyle Jeffs arrested in South Dakota
Bishop Lyle Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was arrested Wednesday night in South Dakota after almost a year on the run, according to the FBI. p
Jeffs, 57, is being held in Minnehaha County Jail in South Dakota. The details of his capture were not immediately available.
Last July, Jeffs, the brother of notorious FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, escaped house arrest after using olive oil to slip a GPS tracking bracelet off his ankle. At the time of his escape, the FBI warned the public that Lyle Jeffs was traveling with bodyguards and was considered dangerous.
Jeffs took over leadership of the polygamist Mormon sect after his older brother was arrested on child sex charges related to his underage wives.
According to the FBI’s wanted poster, Jeffs was on home confinement while awaiting trial over his alleged involvement in a food stamp fraud case when he escaped.
He had been charged with conspiracy to commit benefits fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Jeffs, another brother, Seth, and other conspirators were accused of defrauding the government of more than $12 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — more commonly known as food stamps.
Church members were urged to allow the conspirators to use their food stamp cards to buy food, according to court documents.
Families that qualified for federal assistance were allegedly told to turn over their food stamp debit cards and take what they needed from a warehouse of pooled resources called “the bishop’s storehouse.”
As a result, the federal government alleges, some families subsisted on beans, rice and toast, while high-ranking church members got meat, turkey and seafood.
The government also alleges that the Jeffs brothers and others laundered money by swiping food stamp debit cards and ringing up “ghost” purchases at church-friendly businesses. The laundered cash allegedly was used on big-ticket items such as a $30,000 pickup truck, a $14,000 tractor and $17,000 in paper products.
An additional $250,000 was allegedly spent on printing costs for Warren Jeffs’ self-published book of jailhouse revelations, “Jesus Christ, Message to All Nations.”
A $50,000 reward had been issued for Lyle Jeffs’ arrest. It’s unclear if anyone will be awarded the money.
Lyle Jeffs’ church split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1930s after the Mormon establishment rejected polygamy.
Warren Jeffs took the reins of the sect in 2002 after the death of his father, the church’s founder. He is serving a life-plus-20-year term for sexual assault. Jeffs was convicted in August 2011 of the aggravated sexual assaults of a 12- and a 15-year-old girl who he claimed were his “spiritual wives.”
Last year, federal authorities expressed concern that Jeffs, now 61, was reorganizing his sect from prison.
By Eliott C. McLaughlin
CNN’s Carma Hassan and Euan McKirdy contributed to this report.