Polygamous Mormon sect leader arrested in South Dakota

Was on the run for months after being charged with welfare manipulation

Federal authorities have arrested Lyle Jeffs, who was a fugitive on the run from house arrest. Jeffs was the former leader of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon sect. Jeffs was arrested in South Dakota on Wednesday night. Prior to his capture, the FBI warned the public that Jeffs had bodyguards and was considered dangerous.

The 57-year-old escaped house arrest in June 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was waiting to be put in trial with other leaders of the sect on charges of diverting money from a federal welfare program. Specifically, he was among 11 leaders believed to be part of a conspiracy to manipulate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as the food stamps program, to commit money laundering. In addition, court documents say that members of the cult were urged to hand over their food stamps, allegedly for the purposes of maintaining a communal pantry. However, this resulted in church members getting basic foods such as beans and rice, while the leaders kept the meats and seafood. Jeffs plead not guilty, but would have to wait for trial in October. So, he used olive oil to slip his tracking bracelet off of his ankle, and proceeded to escape.

The sect is strongest in Utah and Arizona, and is an offshoot of the Mormon church, which forbade polygamy in 1890 and has no ties with the sect. Jeffs is the brother of Warren Jeffs, considered a prophet of the sect. Warren is currently serving a life sentence in Texas for illegally marrying and sexually abusing underage girls; Lyle took over leadership of the group upon Warren’s imprisonment. Warren’s former mansion is in the process of being purchased by Brielle Decker, one of his 79 wives. Decker hopes to convert it into a tourist attraction and a rehabilitation center for former sect members.

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