Fugitive FLDS Church leader Lyle Jeffs arrested in South Dakota

Posted at 5:03 AM, Jun 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-15 23:26:22-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Fugitive Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Lyle Jeffs has been arrested in South Dakota.

Jeffs was apprehended after a tip from a pawn shop in Yankton, South Dakota where he tried to sell some tools. River City Treasures & Pawn owner Kevin Haug told FOX 13 he gave the name "Jeffs Lyle Steed" to an employee as he tried to sell some pliers.

"The way he was acting, we Googled his name and up popped up the name on the FBI most wanted list," Haug said.

Haug said Jeffs' behavior was strange, which made the employee suspicious. On Wednesday night, the fugitive polygamist leader was found at a marina in Yankton.

FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs arrives at the federal courthouse in Sioux Falls, SD. (Image KSFY via CNN)

"We have good reason to believe Mr. Jeffs had been in the area for at least two weeks and was living out of his car," FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Eric Barnhart said at a news conference on Thursday.

Jeffs was arrested at least six hours away from the FLDS Church's compound in Pringle. FOX 13 visited it last year. It features a guard tower, and has a massive footprint for a development that some have speculated could be the site of a new temple.

A guard tower in the pine trees oversees the FLDS Church's property in the Black Hills of South Dakota. (Image by Mike Rank, FOX 13 News)

But Barnhart told reporters there was no evidence at this point anyone from the FLDS Church had been keeping him on the run. FBI agents will now try to piece together where Jeffs has been for the past year.

In an interview with FOX 13, Thomas Jeffs -- one of Lyle Jeffs' sons -- said he believed his father was basically homeless after being cast out by imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

"I think he was just going across the country trying to survive after Warren sent him out," Thomas Jeffs said.

Barnhart said that was the theory federal agents were operating on, that Warren kicked his brother out of the church.

Thomas Jeffs told FOX 13 he helped keep his father on the run when Warren was a fugitive on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. He's been talking to federal agents ever since his father vanished. Thomas Jeffs laid the blame on his uncle, Warren Jeffs, and had mixed feelings on his father's arrest.

Thomas Jeffs, the son of FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs, speaks to FOX 13's Ben Winslow in an interview on June 15, 2017. (Image by Mike Rank, FOX 13 News)

"Excitement, but yet I feel sorry for the guy," he said. "Warren hung him out to dry. Warren told him to run."

Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas for child sex assault related to underage "marriages."

Lyle Jeffs appeared before a federal magistrate judge in Sioux Falls on Thursday afternoon where he waived his identity hearing. He will be extradited to Utah in a couple of weeks where he is expected to face additional charges.

"The long arm of the law will eventually catch up to you and bring you back to justice," U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said Thursday.

Members of the FLDS Church charged with food stamp fraud. (Graphic by Russ Slade, FOX 13 News)

The bishop in the Fundamentalist LDS Church has been on the run for nearly a year, after he escaped from home confinement while awaiting trial on food stamp fraud charges. FOX 13 first reported last year the FBI believes he used olive oil to slip out of a GPS monitoring device.

Since then, the FBI elevated Jeffs to its "Most Wanted" list with a $50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Barnhart declined to provide any information on the tipster, except to say he has "a good story."

Jeffs is among 11 people initially charged in a massive food stamp fraud scheme in the FLDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Plea deals were offered to all (charges were dismissed against one).

Watch the FBI news conference here: