Five years after its leader was incarcerated for sexually abusing his very young "brides," the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints may finally be in serious trouble. As I wrote here, a federal case was brought against sect leaders for defrauding the food stamp program, while letting the genuinely needy sect membership starve. The case appears to have thrown the FLDS into disarray.
Lyle Jeffs, who was the church's acting leader, used olive oil (presumably paid for with illegal food stamps) to slip out of his ankle monitor and escape. He remains at large – or on a "repentance mission" if communiques from Warren Jeffs are to believed. The fugitive Jeffs was stripped of his authority by the incarcerated Jeffs, and replaced with another Jeffs, Nephi.
Prosecutors would like to see the key defendants behind bars awaiting trial, as they have all been caught meeting against court order, and illegally carrying out Warren Jeffs's mandates.
Warren Jeffs ordered John Wayman and Seth Jeffs to meet with others in Hildale, Utah, several times in late July, the U.S. Attorney's Office says in a court filing Monday. They were told to make a plan to interview all members of an elite group within the sect known as the "United Order" to determine if they should be re-baptized and re-confirmed as members, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors filed the new evidence in an attempt to persuade a judge to keep Wayman and Seth Jeffs behind bars. They were re-arrested last week for violations of their release provisions.
"The evidence, including the defendants' past conduct, well establishes that when the dictates of their prophet conflict with an order of the court, the defendants will follow their religious leader in contravention of the court's order," prosecutors wrote.
Warren Jeffs seems to be going out of his way to prove that he is still in control of the sect, despite his incarceration, and to take credit for shake-ups that have come mostly at the hands of the federal government. He's even gone so far as to chastise the current leadership for their sexual exploits, which is ironic, since that what he's in jail for.
One FBI report documenting a prison visit by two Jeffs wives, suggests that even the newly installed bishop faces stern words and detailed instructions from the prophet. Warren Jeffs noted in his lengthy instructions to Nephi that each of Short Creek’s recent bishops had failed: “Each one has had the great sin of finding comfort in women’s attention,” Warren Jeffs said, warning: “Do not gossip with the family of Warren Jeffs.”
He explained that he had removed Lyle Jeffs as bishop after “a short revelation” and that all members would be re-interviewed, re-baptized and re-confirmed into the United Order. He asked for and received the names of every United Order member who was in good standing during Lyle Jeffs’ tenure as bishop.
And, Warren Jeffs wrote in a lengthy letter dated June 3, anyone who doesn’t pass muster will be banished and sent “far away.”
Meanwhile, from his remote, repentance location, Lyle Jeffs has filed a motion through his attorneys claiming that redistributing members' food stamps to the church's elite is part of their First Amendment protected right to religious freedom. (Think of it as Christ's loaves and fishes miracle in reverse.) And, federal prosecutors have responded thusly:
Lyle Jeffs and other polygamous sect leaders carried out a multi-million dollar food stamp fraud scheme so they could live lavish lifestyles while low-ranking followers lived on rice, tomato sauce and plain toast, federal prosecutors contended in a new court filing Thursday.
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