The defense claimed that Lyle Jeffs’ actions were like taking a plate of covered food to a church potluck.
Federal prosecutors, however, said his criminal acts cost U.S. taxpayers $12 million and took food away from hungry members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — a white supremacist, homophobic, antigovernment, totalitarian cult.
The 57-year-old former operations chief of the communal FLDS sect and former federal fugitive admitted wrongdoing last Wednesday when he was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
“I acknowledge my mistakes and my decision-making and how it has affected the law,” Jeffs told U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. “I humbly accept responsibilities for my actions.”
The federal judge sentenced Jeffs to 57 months in prison, followed by three years of probation. Prosecutors asked the court to send Jeffs to prison for 71 months.
“As far as my religious beliefs, they are sincere. I don’t intend to compromise that,” Jeffs told the court, asking the judge for leniency.
Jeffs pleaded guilty in September to separate counts of federal food stamp fraud and failing to appear in court. He was a federal fugitive for more than a year after using olive oil to slip out of an ankle-monitoring bracelet while he was awaiting trial.
As a federal fugitive and apparently penniless, Jeffs was arrested in June in Yankston, South Dakota, after he attempted to pawn two Leatherman tools for $35.
At sentencing last week, Jeffs was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was defrauded in the FLDS-scheme he directed.
His defense attorney, Kathryn Nester, claimed that FLDS members, under Jeffs’ direction, “were merely donating their benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the same way that people of other faiths might take a covered dish to a church potluck,” the newspaper reported.
Federal prosecutor Rob Lund countered that, saying Lyle Jeffs has “broken laws for years, including presiding over marriage ceremonies to underage brides, violating child-labor laws and other misdeeds ordered by his brother, FLDS President Warren Jeffs,” the newspaper reported.
Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually abusing two girls he married as plural wives, but reportedly still directs activities of the FLDS from his prison cell.