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Lyle Jeffs will remain in jail pending trial in a federal food stamp fraud case.
A judge on Thursday denied a request from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints bishop to be released to a house in Provo and wear a GPS ankle monitor.
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart had previously released three other defendants in the case, including one of Jeffs' full brothers. But in a 10-page ruling issued Thursday, Stewart said that while the food stamp fraud case normally would not warrant pre-trial detention, "... the court must also acknowledge the large scale of the alleged conspiracy and its impact on the community."
Stewart wrote of the hardship caused to some FLDS members due to the allegedly unfair distribution of accumulated, fraudulent obtained foodstuffs. He also noted Jeffs' purported leadership role in perpetrating the fraud, as well as Jeffs' "own [past] efforts to evade law enforcement, avoid detection, and assist others in doing the same."
Finally, in declaring that it was evident that Lyle Jeffs was in contact with, and would follow any instructions from his imprisoned FLDS "prophet" brother, Warren Jeffs, to flee, Stewart found "that there are no conditions that will reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant" at future court proceedings.
Neither attorneys for Lyle Jeffs nor the government immediately offered comment Thursday. Lyle Jeffs, 56, is being held in the Weber County jail and has been in custody since indictments against 11 FLDS members were unsealed Feb. 23.
During a Wednesday hearing on Lyle Jeffs' detention, the discussion veered into whether he had married three underage girls and how much contact he has with his infamous older brother.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund contended Lyle Jeffs was a flight risk and would tamper with witnesses because he doesn't acknowledge court orders or the law. He presented Stewart with an excerpt from a revelation Warren Jeffs sent elected officials in February, saying he was wrongly being incarcerated at a prison in Palestine, Texas, and that laws should be overturned when they contradict religious beliefs. Lyle Jeffs, who at the time of his arrest was the bishop in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., signed the document.
Twenty-three FLDS members, including Lyle Jeffs' most-senior wife, Pauline Barlow, attended the hearing, sitting in the gallery behind the defense table.
But as Lund was about to discuss evidence seized in 2008 from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, defense attorney Kathryn Nester asked Stewart to pause the hearing so the FLDS members could exit the courtroom and bailiffs could escort Lyle Jeffs to a holding cell in another room. The FLDS are not supposed to view or hear evidence from Texas, where Warren Jeffs was convicted of sexually abusing two girls he married.
With the FLDS out of the courtroom, Lund showed Stewart evidence that Lyle Jeffs had allegedly married three underage girls in the 2000s and that Warren Jeffs' had sanctioned his brother having sex with at least one of the girls, age 16.
"Not only does the defendant practice polygamy," Lund said, "he practices polygamy with underage girls with whom he has sexual contact."
Nester countered that just because Warren Jeffs authorized something doesn't mean it happened. As for the marriages, she pointed to a Utah law allowing 16-year-olds to marry with a parent's consent.
"This is where we get in the sticky area of whether my client ought to be detained because of polygamy," Nester said.
Family members who have left the FLDS have said Lyle Jeffs has eight wives. His legal wife, Charlene Wall Jeffs, divorced him last year. Lyle Jeffs and the FLDS returned to the courtroom after about 10 minutes.
Lyle Jeffs is the last of 11 food stamp fraud defendants still in jail.
Prosecutors have described Jeffs as presiding over a scheme in which FLDS members donated their food stamp debit cards to the church or used the cards at FLDS-run businesses where the benefits were converted into cash.
A trial for all 11 defendants is scheduled for May 31, but is likely to be postponed so lawyers have time to review terabytes of documents generated by law enforcement.
Reporter Bob Mims contributed to this story