SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Lyle Jeffs will soon be going to prison for a food stamp fraud scheme and fleeing.
How much time he will serve remains unknown until his sentencing in December.
The presumed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) Wednesday, Jeffs entered guilty pleas to two federal charges related to orchestrating a $12 million dollar food stamp fraud scheme and failing to show up in court.
“He’s in jail clothing today, he’s in shackles, he’s in chains,” said U.S. Attorney John Huber. “He’s not getting out anytime soon.”
Jeffs was indicted in 2016 for defrauding the federal government.
But prior to trial, he fled last year only to be captured in South Dakota in June.
“Lyle Jeffs was the architect of this fraud scheme and would direct members of the FLDS community and to obey those instructions and in whole donate or sign over SNAP benefits, food stamp benefits,” Huber said after Wednesday’s hearing. “Those benefits are to help people who are hungry, who need supplemental assistance and they weren’t getting it.”
Other FLDS church leaders were indicted and pleaded guilty as well, but only Jeffs will serve time in prison.
His attorney spoke briefly about the plea deal.
“It was in the client’s best interest (to accept the plea deal),” said his attorney Kathryn Nester. “We’re asking for the lowest possible sentence that we can get.
Huber said the defense will ask for three years in prison when Jeffs is sentenced in December. The prosecution will recommend five-years in prison.
Jeffs will also have to pay one million dollars in restitution.
“We believe a 5-year prison sentence and restitution and supervision that follows when he’s released from prison captures justice in this case.”
As part of the plea agreement, which Huber called “a compromise,” a money laundering charge was dropped.
Huber was asked if members of the FLDS church will be forced to pay the restitution.
“We’re not out to punish people of faith, people with sincere religious beliefs, we’re out to punish fraudsters,” he said. “Lyle Jeffs is now a convicted fraudster
He said they will begin investigating his assets to make sure its Jeff who pays and not its members.
Jeffs will remain in the Davis County jail until his December 13 sentencing.