Polygamist leaders face a federal judge on money laundering and fraud charges
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A day after federal authorities raided several businesses in the polygamist towns of Hildale, Ut, and Colorado City, Az that led to the arrest of 11 of their leaders – two of them faced a federal judge in Salt Lake City today – indicted on federal fraud and money-laundering charges.
Lyle Jeffs, the brother of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, and John Wayman didn’t say much in federal court this morning as the two men entered a not guilty plea in relation to the charges.
Shackled and wearing striped Davis County jail jump suits, they remained virtually silent. Jeffs looking somber, his head bowed the entire time, only looking up to address the judge.
Authorities raided several compounds in the polygamists towns yesterday after investigators say residents were scanning food stamp cards at stores and not getting items in return. Instead the leaders would funnel the money. During the hearing prosecutors argued this case isn’t about religion but a fraud scheme that took government money intended to feed poor people.
“The legal authorities preclude diversion of federal funds for purposes other than the stated purpose and so to the extent of federal monies, were diverted for purposes other than intended, that’s a crime,” says US attorney Robert Lund.
Lund says, “the court has gone into a lot of effort and expense to investigate this case to present this case to a Grand Jury. We want to ensure that we have our day in court and that we are able to vindicate the governments interests.”
This morning prosecutors argued against setting a bail for the two men as they are concerned they would run if released.
“We have serious concerns about the defendants flight risk. Their access to locations and resources that could help them abscond and keep themselves from the courts jurisdiction,” said Lund.
This morning Wayman retained his own counsel but Jeffs had one appointed to him. Cathy Nester, his court appointed attorney, wouldn’t comment on the pending case but someone who did was Jeffs own son who says his father’s arrest was necessary, and says the allegations against him are legitimate. He stated he even witnessed the activity first hand.
“When I was even in the Church I asked him why we were even doing that and he says, ‘we’ll be fine and we’re 10 steps ahead of the government so there’s nothing to fear’…He knows what he’s done…the way the system worked down there people would take their food card and go down and purchase food items and give them to the store house – different things like that – every person was different. It was just whatever dad decided should happen with their food card. He’s the one who ultimately told everybody what to do with their food card,” said Lyle Jeffs son, Thomas Jeffs.
Thomas was present in court today as his father faced the judge. He left the Church about 2.5 years ago and says he has not had any communication with his father in years, but he wanted to be there today to see him and to see his reaction to the allegation against him.
Someone else who was present was LeRoy Jeffs, the son of Warren Jeffs. Both, LeRoy and Thomas say the arrest of the 11 polygamist leaders is crucial to help the people of those communities experience freedom.
“These guys dictate everything. Down to what they wear and what they eat, and how much they eat. So, it’s definitely going to hurt the people but good is gonna come out of it,” said LeRoy Jeffs.
The two say the the people in those towns will suffer without their leaders because they will have no one to turn to for guidance but it is absolutely necessary for them to begin thinking on their own.
They say while the absence of these 11 people are important they say others will step in to take their place. Which is why Thomas Jeffs says, it is crucial for his uncles to also be detained, so the cycle can’t continue.
Both Jeffs and Wayman will remain in US Marshall custody pending their detention hearings. Jeffs detention hearing is set for March 7th while Wayman’s is set for this Friday, February 26th. Both prosecutors and defendants plan to bring witnesses forward.
If convicted the two men face several years in prison and face thousands of dollars in fines.