Lyle Jeffs, who was among 11 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints indicted in what prosecutors have called a conspiracy to defraud the food stamp program, was captured late Wednesday in South Dakota.
Few details of the capture were immediately provided. An online log at the Minnehaha County, S.D., jail lists Jeffs as an inmate. He is being held without bond.
The FBI Field Office in Salt Lake City sent a tweet Thursday morning saying Jeffs was arrested in South Dakota about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. The FLDS has a compound in South Dakota, though it is on the opposite side of the state — almost 400 miles away from where Jeffs was booked into jail.
While the FBI believed Jeffs was removed from his position as bishop while evading law enforcement, FLDS member Norma Richter on Thursday expressed support for the man many FLDS members still call “Uncle Lyle,” and doubted the government’s accusations.
“I have no reason to believe anything other than he’s honorable and the whole case against him was foolish,” she said.
“There was really no case,” Richter added. “So I don’t know why they were still chasing him.”
Jeffs and the other defendants were arrested in February 2016 as part of a federal raid on FLDS offices and two businesses suspected of converting benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program into cash. Jeffs and other leaders were accused of teaching FLDS members to donate those benefits to the church.
Federal prosecutors and the FBI fought hard to keep him in jail pending trial, but Jeffs’ attorneys persuaded Judge Ted Stewart to set him free with monitoring.
Jeffs, 57, appeared to use olive oil to slip off his GPS ankle monitor and abscond from home confinement in Salt Lake County in late on June 18 or early June 19, according to the FBI.
Meanwhile, Jeffs co-defendants, including full brother, Seth Jeffs, resolved their cases by pleading guilty to felony or misdemeanor charges. All avoided jail time or paying restitution.
Representatives of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah have said no such offers will be made to Lyle Jeffs; they are prepared to take him to trial and send him to prison. Lyle Jeffs might also be charged for fleeing to avoid prosecution, though no such charge has been filed against him so far.
By NATE CARLISLE