Lyle Jeffs, fugitive leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), has filed a motion to dismiss a federal grand jury indictment against him, arguing a religious right to collect food stamps for the church.
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What’s the Problem?
July 13, 2016 – In a motion filed yesterday, Jeffs’ attorney asked a judge to toss the indictment on food stamp fraud and money laundering charges, according to FOX 13. Jeffs is one of 11 FLDS leaders accused of ordering church members to turn over food stamp benefits to be redistributed as the leadership wished. Federal prosecutors contend that Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are intended only for use by those they’re given to, and that the scheme perpetrated by Jeffs and the others exceeds $12 million in taxpayer dollars.
Jeffs fled home confinement on June 21 after a judge ordered his release pending trial on the food stamp fraud charges. The FBI told FOX 13 that it believes he used olive oil to slip out of his GPS monitoring device without it alerting authorities. Jeffs is a wanted fugitive considered “armed and dangerous,” according to the bureau.
In the filing, Jeffs’ defense attorney Kathryn Nester contends that he and other FLDS members have a right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to give their property to the church.
The FLDS live under the early Mormon concept of a “united order,” where members give their property and earnings to the church which divides it according to “wants and needs,” Nester said.
Warren Jeffs, head of the FLDS Church, is serving a life term in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered his wives, he is still believed to be in supreme command of the polygamous sect, but his brother is believed to run the day-to-day operations.
Nester said the government may not like the FLDS Church, but prosecuting them for food stamp fraud creates a “substantial burden” on Jeffs’ First Amendment right to religious freedom.
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