Jailed Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) prophet Warren Jeffs’ brother, Lyle Steed Jeffs, and ten other FLDS leaders were indicted today on multiple counts of conspiracy to commit benefits fraud. The charges surround the FLDS church’s handling of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Charged in the indictment are Lyle Steed Jeffs, age 56, John Clifton Wayman, age 56, Kimball Dee Barlow, age 51, Winford Johnson Barlow, age 50, Rulon Mormon Barlow, age 45, Ruth Peine Barlow, age 41, and Preston Yates Barlow, age 41, all of Hildale; Seth Steed Jeffs, age 42, of Custer, South Dakota; and Nephi Steed Allred, Hyrum Bygnal Dutson, age 55, and Kristal Meldrum Dutson, age 55, all of Colorado City. Lyle Jeffs is the brother of Warren Jeffs. In the physical absence of Warren Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs handles the daily affairs of the organization, including its financial matters. Another of Warren Jeffs’ brothers, Seth Jeffs,
leads a congregation of FLDS members in rural Custer County, South Dakota. Arrest warrants were issued for all defendants charged in the indictment.
“This indictment is not about religion. This indictment is about fraud,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said today. “This indictment charges a sophisticated group of individuals operating in the Hildale-Colorado City community who conspired to defraud a program intended to help low-income individuals and families purchase food.”
Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, who helped initiate the investigation and has officers participating on the FBI’s Public Corruption Task Force, emphasized the role his local investigators played in starting the investigation. “What started as a small investigation quickly grew to a point where it was important to work with federal agencies to build a case to present to a grand jury.” Washington County Attorney Brock R. Belnap, whose office also participated in the investigation, will participate in prosecuting the case as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney.
According to the indictment, the leaders had been funneling SNAP benefits from all of their members through the church storehouse. “Between 2011 and 2013, FLDS leaders directed members to divert their SNAP benefits to the FLDS Storehouse.” The indictment goes on to explain that these men also planned ways to hide the activities. “These leaders, including Lyle Jeffs, Seth Jeffs, John Wayman and Kimball Barlow, held meetings in which they disseminated Storehouse protocols. The protocols dictated methods for diverting SNAP benefits to the FLDS Storehouse. These leaders also provided instructions on how to avoid suspicion and detection by the government.”
Their efforts, however, weren’t enough as the FBI Public Corruption Task Force, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and the Washington County Attorney’s Office worked together on the case.
Tuesday morning, FBI agents, in conjunction with the Washington County Sheriffs office, raided the towns of Hilldale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. The two towns which sit at the Utah Arizona border are commonly known as the FLDS community of Short Creek.
Belnap expressed appreciation for the efforts of the many agencies involved in the investigation. “I am grateful for the numerous partners who have worked diligently on this case. It is our shared hope that this action will help innocent families receive the food assistance that they genuinely need while holding people accountable who conspire to divert those resources to illegal purposes.”
The full indictment can be read at US-v-Jeffs-et-al