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Lyle Jeffs, Polygamist Accused Of Fraud, Arrested After Nearly A Year On The Run

Polygamous sect leader Lyle Jeffs leaves the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City in January 2015.

Lyle Jeffs, a leader of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who has been accused of large-scale food stamp fraud and money laundering, was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday after nearly a year on the run.

Jeffs was indicted last February and gave the FBI the slip last June. The FBI believes he used olive oil to slide a GPS tracker off his ankle, as the Deseret News reported last year.

The bureau offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Jeffs was found in South Dakota and arrested on Wednesday night, the FBI says.

Jeffs is the brother of infamous polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of child sexual assault in 2011 for his "marriages" to a 12-year-old and 15-year-old. Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence.

After his brother's imprisonment, Lyle Jeffs became acting leader of the FLDS sect, a radical offshoot of the Mormon church that began splintering from the mainstream church more than a century ago. The FLDS has a few thousand members and, unlike the contemporary Mormon church, believes in polygamy. Lyle Jeffs reportedly has, or had, nine wives; Warren Jeffs had dozens of wives.

In January 2016, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that "Uncle Lyle" had become the church's chief executive and religious leader:

"Lyle, in his brother's name, has enforced rigid doctrines unlike any the faith has had before, former members say, with bans on marriages, sex among spouses [you can read more on this rule here] and a grocery list of foods, such as beans, milk, sugar and chocolate. No one is allowed to read or watch secular media or view the evidence law enforcement collected against Warren in Texas. Lyle also has evicted perhaps hundreds of men, women and children. Others have left on their own. ...

"Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered Lyle, some FLDS businessmen and the church itself to pay fines totaling almost $2 million for using children and unpaid labor during a 2012 pecan harvest. The fines remain under appeal and have not been paid."

The church has also been accused of discriminating against non-members.

But it was the alleged food stamp fraud that brought criminal charges — not just for Lyle Jeffs, but for nearly a dozen church leaders and members.

NPR reported on the indictment last year, noting that some church members accuse the federal government of persecuting them:

" 'This indictment is not about religion. This indictment is about fraud,' U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said in a statement.

"In the indictment, prosecutors say FLDS church members receive millions of dollars in SNAP benefits each year. The program is intended to help low-income families and individuals buy food. Jeffs and other church leaders allegedly ordered members to give their SNAP benefits to the church, which then redistributed them to the community. In some cases, prosecutors say, church leaders told members to transfer their SNAP benefits to church-owned stores without receiving food.

"The money from the alleged scheme, prosecutors say, helped finance the purchase of paper products, a tractor and a truck — all of which are ineligible under SNAP rules."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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