A trip to a pawn shop to sell two Leatherman tools for $35 was all it took for fugitive polygamous cult leader Lyle Jeffs to be arrested a year after he used olive oil to escape home-monitoring custody.
Jeffs, a leader of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), was arrested late Wednesday near a marina in Yankston, South Dakota, where he had been living out of a Ford pickup, authorities said.
He became a federal fugitive on June 19, 2016, when he used olive oil to slip out of a GPS ankle monitor while on home-confinement as he awaited trial in Utah on federal charges of money laundering and food stamp fraud.
A federal indictment alleged Jeffs and 10 other FLDS members of the racist religious sect illegally used federal food stamp cards to convert purchases to cash that they put in the church’s coffers.
The 57-year-old fugitive was arrested during a police traffic stop without incident after a pawn shop owner in Yankton became suspicious when the fugitive showed up at the business on Tuesday and pawned two pairs of Leatherman pliers for $37, using the name Jeffs Lyle Steed, according to various media reports.
After reading about the fugitive on the Internet, the shop owner called police, providing them with store video and pawn papers, news accounts say
While a fugitive, reports suggest Jeffs had a falling out with his imprisoned brother, Warren Jeffs, making it difficult for him to get financial and other support from FLDS members.
Lyle Jeffs reportedly had been in the Yankton area about two weeks. It is about 400 miles away from a 140-acre FLDS compound known as “R23” in Custer County, near Pringle, South Dakota.
Authorities now will attempt to determine where Jeffs has been hiding for the past year and who, if anyone, assisted the federal fugitive.
In the next few days, Jeffs is expected to be extradited from South Dakota to Salt Lake City where the U.S. Attorney says it’s likely he may face additional charges for fleeing prosecution, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
The arrest of Jeffs comes at a time when the FLDS flock seems in disarray, with its modern day leader Warren Jeffs — Lyle Jeffs’ brother — serving a life-term in a Texas prison for child rape. There are reports that he still calls the shots while in prison, in deteriorating health.
In a related development, many FLDS members are being evicted from their homes in the group’s main community, Short Creek, comprised of the adjoining communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
The evictions are occurring, according to news reports, because the FLDS members are refusing to sign occupancy agreements or pay $100 monthly fees to a land trust once controlled by the sect. The fees are being collected so the trust can pay chronically delinquent property taxes.
In the past decade, the sect had an estimated 10,000 members scattered in various locations, including Short Creek, Eldorado, Texas, Edgemont, South Dakota and in the tiny Colorado communities of Cotopaxi, Florence and Mancos. Still others live in Boundary County, Idaho, on the Canadian border, and in the nearby community of Bountiful, British Columbia. Even members of the group are uncertain of its current membership.
The FLDS sect, which advocates child brides and polygamy, was listed as a hate group in 2005 by SPLC because of its anti-black, homophobic and antigovernment views. Warren Jeffs has preached that black people are the descendants of Cain, “cursed with black skin” and selected by God to be the “servants of servants.”
The group also practices polygamy, even though it’s illegal. The FLDS is a breakaway from today’s modern Mormons, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Saints, which abandoned polygamy, or “plural marriage,” in the late 19th century to allow Utah to gain statehood.
An apostle and spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has said modern-day Mormons “have nothing whatsoever to do with this polygamous sect.”