FLDS leaders plead ‘not guilty’ after arrests, raid

Posted at 8:32 AM, Feb 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-24 23:35:04-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Six people arrested in a raid on businesses linked to Utah's largest polygamous church appeared in federal court, pleading "not guilty" to food stamp fraud and money laundering.

Shackled and wearing striped jail jumpsuits, Fundamentalist LDS Church bishop Lyle Jeffs and John Wayman, another leader in the polygamous group, appeared before a magistrate judge here. The judge announced that Jeffs did not have enough money to hire a lawyer, so he appointed a public defender.

"It does hurt me to see my father in cuffs, in a jumpsuit," Thomas Jeffs, one of Lyle Jeffs' sons, said outside of court. "But I feel like it's a necessary thing to happen for the people down there to actually have a taste of freedom."

The other arrested defendants, Winford Johnson Barlow, Kristal Meldrum Dutson and Ruth Peine Barlow, appeared before a federal judge in St. George, where they entered not guilty pleas. Lyle Jeffs' brother, Seth Jeffs, a bishop over the FLDS Church's compound in South Dakota, appeared before a judge there. Five people remain fugitives.

Six charged in FLDS case

They're accused of ordering FLDS members who were on welfare to hand over their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards to leaders to do with as they pleased. SNAP benefits were diverted to the Bishop's Storehouse and the FLDS Church's "United Order."

Thomas Jeffs said he left the church years ago and hasn't spoken to his father in years. He told FOX 13 he witnessed the fraud charged in the indictment.

"When I was in the church I asked him why we were doing that? He says, 'We'll be fine. We're ten steps ahead of the government. There's nothing to fear,'" he said.

Federal prosecutors called it a fraud on taxpayers.

"In our view, this case has nothing to do with religion," assistant U.S. Attorney for Utah Rob Lund said.

Defense attorneys declined to comment on the case outside court.

John Wayman's attorney, Jim Bradshaw, leaves U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

John Wayman's attorney, Jim Bradshaw, leaves U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors want detention for all of the defendants. In a massive court document filed Tuesday night, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah sought to have Lyle Jeffs detained in the custody of U.S. Marshals, pointing to a network of safe houses across the United States, western Canada, Mexico and even South America (where he is believed to have a ranch).

They also pointed to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving life in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage marriages. He was once a fugitive on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

One of Warren Jeffs' sons, Roy Jeffs, who left the church years ago, told FOX 13 that the recent raid in Hildale and Colorado City would cut off some access between the FLDS leader and his devoted followers, but like a hydra -- others would step in to run daily operations. He said his father had "absolute power" over his followers.

"They'll use this to say to the people, this is a testimony of how we're the true church and we're being persecuted," Roy Jeffs said. "They'll use this to control them more."