Arrest highlights split within FLDS Church, family members say

Posted at 4:24 PM, Jun 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-16 23:49:25-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The arrest of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Lyle Jeffs has highlighted an apparent split within the closed polygamous church.

Imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs cast out his brother, Lyle Jeffs, who once served as bishop, their sons told FOX 13.

"My dad will just... he’ll just kick somebody out for no reason sometimes," Leroy Jeffs, a son of Warren Jeffs, said. "He’ll just say, 'You're thinking impure thoughts,' whatever. You’re out."

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

The FBI is operating under the theory that Warren ousted Lyle, Special Agent-in-Charge Eric Barnhart told reporters on Thursday. When Lyle Jeffs was arrested, he was living in his truck in Yankton, South Dakota.

He's been wanted for a year after slipping out of a GPS monitoring device while on home confinement awaiting trial on food stamp fraud charges. Federal prosecutors said they intend to have Lyle Jeffs extradited back to Utah to face additional charges.

One of Lyle's sons, Thomas, told FOX 13 he believes Warren may have set his father up, telling him to flee home confinement last year and then casting him out.

"You're no good to him and the people shun you," he said in an interview Thursday. "When Warren's done with you, he's done."

Ousting Lyle from the FLDS Church would cut him off from a vast network of resources and safe houses. Thomas said he should know -- he helped keep his father on the run when Warren was a fugitive sought by the FBI.

Thomas Jeffs, who left the FLDS Church, said he had been speaking with FBI agents ever since his father disappeared last year.

"Warren doesn’t care about anybody but himself. You can see that. He’s running people from prison and he’s ruining more lives," he said.

In court documents filed last year in a food stamp fraud case the feds leveled against Lyle Jeffs and 10 others, the FBI said Warren Jeffs sent his brother on a "repentance mission" and replaced him with his brothers Nephi and Seth, as well as John Wayman. They included a letter purportedly written by Jeffs in prison.

Read a portion of the letter here:

From his Texas prison cell where he's serving a life sentence for child sex assault related to underage "marriages," Jeffs exercises control over the FLDS Church.

"From what I understand, there’s still some of my dad’s wives that are in contact with him and kind of get his word to different people," Leroy Jeffs told FOX 13.  "But they’re losing a lot of members right now. A lot of people are leaving."

It's because of edicts that have placed increasing restrictions on faithful members of the FLDS Church, Thomas Jeffs said.

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs in a 2014 deposition from the Texas prison where he is serving a life sentence.

"It’s down to the food what they can and cannot eat. What they can and cannot dress in," he said.

Leroy Jeffs said faithful members will still not believe the accusations against Warren Jeffs, or even Lyle Jeffs.

"Basically they’re going to be like, he’s a martyr for our cause," he said.