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Polygamous church leader escapes pre-trial Utah home confinement

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A leader of a Utah-based polygamous faith who has been charged in connection with a food stamp fraud and money laundering scheme has escaped from his pre-trial home confinement, officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of Utah said on its Twitter account that Lyle Jeffs fled sometime over the weekend and that an arrest warrant was issued by a judge on Sunday afternoon.

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Further details were not immediately available.

Kathy Nester, one of Jeffs’ attorneys in the case, declined to comment on the news when reached by email on Monday.

Jeffs pleaded not guilty to the two-count indictment in Salt Lake City in February. He is the de facto leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), an unacknowledged offshoot of the Mormon Church.

Prosecutors allege Jeffs and other FLDS leaders in Arizona and South Dakota diverted money from the federal government food assistance program for the poor.

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In all, the indictment charges 11 defendants with conspiring to defraud the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, and conspiring to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors contend that in about 2011 the church leaders directed adherents to funnel food bought with SNAP money to an FLDS storehouse to feed the greater church community.

“These leaders also provided instructions on how to avoid suspicions and detection by the government,” the indictment said.

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Money also was diverted to other leaders to pay bills, according to the charges. One spent $30,236 on a 2012 Ford F-350 truck and another paid $16,978 for paper products, prosecutors said.

Jeffs is the brother of Warren Jeffs, who is considered the prophet of the faith and is serving a sentence of up to life in prison plus 20 years in Texas for illegally marrying and sexually abusing underage girls.

The sect is based in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. It is an offshoot of the Salt Lake City-based mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which renounced polygamy in 1890 and has no affiliation with the FLDS.

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(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Leslie Adler)


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