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Charlene Jeffs was worried her estranged husband would take their two youngest children to his ranch in South America, she told a Washington County Sheriff's detective last fall.
Others in the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did not know that Lyle Jeffs, who for years has run the day-to-day operations of the sect for his imprisoned brother Warren Jeffs, had such a ranch, Charlene told the detective. But Charlene described it to agents and told them how Lyle used the fire department in Hildale to create false IDs, which she feared could be used by her husband to steal her children. "This process has been used by several individuals with the Short Creek community to get false identification at the direction of the FLDS leadership," notes of Charlene's interview say.
The woman's statements, as well as other information obtained from people who have become disillusioned or alienated from the FLDS Church, will be used against Lyle next month when federal prosecutors argue that Lyle should remain in jail while awaiting trial on charges he conspired to defraud the federal food stamp program.
The federal government has compiled more than a decade's worth of evidence against the Jeffs family, which has been used in the criminal indictments unsealed Tuesday and in civil proceedings targeting FLDS businesses and the municipal governments in Hildale and adjoining Colorado City, Ariz., collectively known as Short Creek.
Almost all the evidence has come directly or indirectly from people who have separated from Jeffs in the last 15 years. When law enforcement has seized church documents, they have relied on former FLDS members to explain to juries what they mean.
Their testimonies the secular kind have made the impenetrable vulnerable.
The witnesses have spanned the demographics of the FLDS. The latest crop described in about two dozen police and FBI reports as well as previously undisclosed affidavits and depositions filed in U.S. District Court by prosecutors include ex-wives, former drivers and cooks for the Jeffs family, and men who were once near the top of the FLDS hierarchy, albeit below the Jeffs family.
For as long as the FLDS has been around, it has created dissidents, said Margaret Cooke. But when she left the FLDS in 1994, at the time Lyle and Warren Jeffs' father, Rulon Jeffs, was the prophet, the number of exiles was in the hundreds. Today, it is estimated to be in the thousands.
Even then, few of those who were evicted or fled challenged the FLDS leadership by filing suit or speaking to police, she said. They were worried that those who remained faithful would harass and intimidate them and their families.
"We believed what came out of [the leadership's] mouth was God," Cooke said. "You never challenged God."
Some of the people who have been booted from the FLDS have been rivals of the Jeffs family or hesitant to follow their instructions, though most of those people say Warren or Lyle offered vague pretenses for their eviction, such as murdering unborn children or that God said they no longer held the priesthood.
The numbers of witnesses has generated its own support system, Cooke said. Friends and family now care for the new departures.
"There's people now going, 'We're going to support you,' " Cooke said.
Who is speaking has also been important, Cooke said. Men who once held important church and civic positions have told others about the sex abuse Warren committed in Texas and other crimes and sins they saw the Jeffs family and their loyalists commit.
Charlene Jeffs is perhaps the first legal wife of an FLDS leader to testify against her husband. Charlene and Lyle Jeffs' divorce became final two months after she expressed the concern about her children being taken to South America.
Charlene explained to the detective how Lyle had instructed Hildale's fire department to issue people ID badges with false names. The recipient would then take the ID badges to Mohave County Community College, which has a campus in Colorado City but at which there has been no accusations of FLDS influence, enroll in the college and receive an ID from there.
Then the recipient would take the two false ID's to a driver license office in Utah or Arizona and obtain a license, Charlene said. She feared the process would be extended to obtain passports for her children, though as of Wednesday she still had custody of them and there was no indication they had been abducted or hidden.
Allene Steed's interview with the FBI described how she began cooking for Lyle in 2007 or 2008. Most of her interview described the authority
Lyle holds over people in the absence of his older, full brother, imprisoned FLDS President Warren Jeffs, who is serving a sentence of up to life in prison plus 20 years in Texas for crimes related to marrying and sexually abusing underage girls.
Steed also describes the role of John Wayman, another man indicted in the food stamp fraud case, his loyalty to the Jeffs family and how he was tasked with special projects.
Steed also told the FBI about privileges Lyle gave himself. Others in the FLDS were supposed to only take food from the FLDS storehouse, which rarely had meat. Aid workers in Short Creek in recent years have described a humanitarian crisis in which people do not have food.
Steed said Lyle and his family did not undergo such hardships. If the storehouse didn't have what Lyle wanted to eat, ingredients would be purchased from stores, including grocery carts full of meat. One of his favorite meals was lasagna, garlic bread and salad, she said. For a time Lyle was trying to watch his weight and she made him more salads.
The witness accounts disclosed late Tuesday in the court documents included some from people whose knowledge has already been made public. Wendell Musser, who in 2007 told The Salt Lake Tribune about being Warren's driver during some of his time running from law enforcement, is recalled in one document.
There are also FBI notes on a 2014 interview with Helaman Barlow, who was then the chief marshal in Short Creek, but was on paid leave for what the towns called insubordination. Barlow admitted to the FBI that he lied for years about the church's role in directing the marshals and the municipal governments. He told his amended story again this month in the civil trial in Phoenix where the U.S. Department of Justice is suing Hildale and Colorado City for what it contends are civil rights violations for allegedly discriminating against non-FLDS members.
That trial has been halted while Judge H. Russel Holland recovers from bronchitis. It is scheduled to resume Monday.
Former FLDS members have frequently occupied the witness stand in that trial. They also are the chief witnesses in another civil case in which the U.S. Department of Labor accuses a business called Paragon Contracting Corp. of using children to harvest pecans at a ranch near Hurricane.
A judge in that case is weighing whether Paragon, as the witnesses against it allege, violated an earlier order not to violate child labor laws.