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SALT LAKE CITY — Lyle Jeffs, the man believed to be leading the Fundamentalist LDS Church on behalf of his imprisoned brother, has been ordered to remain in jail as he faces federal charges of food stamp fraud.
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart handed down the 10-page decision Thursday, a day after Jeffs' appeal to reverse orders that he remain in custody pending trial.
"As stated, defendant is the highest ranking member of the FLDS community in Short Creek and directly controls many aspects of day-to-day life," Stewart wrote. "The court is gravely concerned that defendant would use this influence to intimidate witnesses and obstruct justice."
Stewart also noted Jeffs' commitment to following orders issued by his brother and the polygamous sect's prophet, Warren Jeffs, and voiced concern that Lyle Jeffs would follow orders from his brother to flee or obstruct justice.
Lyle Jeffs' attorney, federal public defender Kathryn Nester, argued that prosecutors want to keep Jeffs in custody because of his role in the church, getting "every piece of dirt" they can on her client but showing no evidence he would intimidate witnesses or fail to come to court if released.
However, assistant U.S. attorney Rob Lund claims Jeffs would use his "substantial influence" as bishop in the church to interfere with the case. Lund presented examples of Lyle Jeffs' efforts to carry out dictates issued by Warren Jeffs from the Texas prison cell where he is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting two underage polygamous brides.
Lyle Jeffs recently circulated a revelation from his brother advocating the overthrow of laws that conflict with tenets of the faith, Lund said.
Jeffs and 10 others are facing a two-count indictment of conspiracy to commit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) benefits fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Alleging $191,000 in fraud, prosecutors say FLDS Church members' food stamp proceeds were diverted from authorized beneficiaries to leaders of the church to use as they saw fit, or the people were instructed to swipe their SNAP cards as if making purchases in church-owned businesses but left empty-handed.