Warren Jeffs is currently imprisoned in Texas for raping girls as young as 12, impregnating a 15 year-old, and recording sex tapes of his so-called “spiritual marriages.”
Warren’s brother, Lyle Jeffs, is accused of using food stamps to finance the family religion — orchestrating the largest scheme in U.S. history to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Lyle Jeffs and 10 other leaders the FLDS Church were arrested last year on felony charges of money laundering and food stamp fraud. All of them were quickly released.
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart was reluctant to release Lyle Jeffs and wrote a lengthy explanation of why Jeffs was a flight risk, but did so anyway. He was right — within days, Jeffs slipped a GPS tracking device off his ankle and ran from the law.
The remaining 10 leaders are also out of prison. Eight of them took plea deals with no jail time or fines, one had charges dismissed, and lawyers for the last man are working on a settlement.
The only loose end is Lyle Jeffs, still a fugitive as the FLDS Church wraps up another chapter in a century-long saga of flaunting the law.
After the U.S. government banned polygamy in 1890, Mormons started offshoot sects in remote locations to continue their lifestyle. One location was Short Creek, a FLDS community in two cities straddling the Utah-Arizona border near the Mojave Desert.
The FLDS Church has a pecan farm, but there is not much agriculture in the arid desert region. Unlike the Amish, who do not accept welfare, FLDS enshrines the idea of taking money from the government in its own religious philosophy.
“Bleeding the beast,” explained ex-FLDS wife Carolyn Jessop to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009, is a doctrine that encourages members to apply for “every possible type of government assistance that is available.”
Polygamy is illegal, so FLDS families only seek marriage licenses for their first wife. Secondary wives are regarded as unemployed single mothers when applying for welfare. Children with disabilities due to inbreeding qualify for even more benefits.
In 2015 alone, 728 households in Short Creek received a total of $7.2 million in food-stamp benefits — $850 per month, on average — state officials in Utah and Arizona told the The Salt Lake Tribune.
Starting in around 2011, Lyle Jeffs and other FLDS leaders required members to donate food stamps and only shop at FLDS-controlled storehouses if they wanted to achieve higher rank in the new “United Order,” according to the Justice Department.
When FLDS members in Short Creek swiped their EBT cards at the FLDS-controlled storehouses, they did not actually buy food. Instead, the money went to the church — where it was divided up unequally and spent on non-food items.
Witnesses say FLDS church leaders dined on meat and scallops while low-ranking members starved. Food stamp money was also used to buy non-food items like a brand-new John Deere load tractor, Ford F-350 pickup truck, and $17,000 in paper goods.