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SALT LAKE CITY — Lyle Jeffs, the acting leader of the Fundamentalist LDS Church and a defendant in a far-reaching fraud case, likely used olive oil as a lubricant to slip out of his ankle monitor and flee federal authorities' reach last month, the FBI said Monday.
Investigators believe Jeffs removed the GPS tracker from his ankle on June 18, sometime after federal agents communicated with him earlier that day, said Sandra Yi Barker, spokeswoman for the FBI's Salt Lake City Division.
Because Jeffs slid off the monitor, instead of cutting it, there wasn't sufficient damage to set off any automatic alerts, Barker said.
"It wasn’t enough to actually sever the fiber-optic connection," she said.
Authorities who contacted Jeffs earlier in the day didn't physically visit the house where he was staying, according to Barker, but "did have some communication with him."
Neighbors reported seeing a dark-colored, newer model Ford Mustang pull into the garage of Jeffs' current residence in Salt Lake County on the evening of June 18, Barker said. Neighbors also said the garage door closed, and sometime later the Mustang left the residence, she said. Witnesses had no further description of the vehicle.
Jeffs and 11 other FLDS leaders were federally indicted in February in an alleged multimillion-dollar food stamp scheme. U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart released him June 9 in advance of his criminal trial, which was slated to begin in October, on the condition that he live in Salt Lake County, wear a GPS monitor and refrain from all contact with any witnesses, victims or co-defendants in the case.
Prosecutors say Jeffs was instrumental in a scheme designed to divert FLDS Church members' benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to church leaders.
The federal indictment also states that Jeffs and others instructed church members to use their SNAP cards as though they were making purchases from church-owned businesses in instances where no actual transactions took place.
Jeffs, who is believed to be running the FLDS Church on behalf of his imprisoned brother Warren Jeffs, was released after defense attorney Kathryn Nester argued it would violate his rights to hold him in custody until his trial.
Prosecutors had previously contended that Lyle Jeffs, if released from custody, would utilize extensive resources at his disposal designed to give him safe havens in the U.S., Canada and South America.
Prosecutors also argued that Lyle Jeffs was a flight risk because he has lived in a motor home and used aliases in order to avoid detection, among other elusive behavior. Leroy Jeffs, an estranged son of Warren Jeffs, said at the time of Lyle Jeffs' arrest that it was "a given" his uncle would flee authorities if granted bail.
A federal warrant seeking Lyle Jeffs' arrest remains active. Barker said it's possible he is living in one of his "hideout locations out of the country."
"(But) we're definitely not ruling out the possibility that he’s still in the U.S.," she said, particularly in the West.
The FBI has received "some valuable tips" but is in need of more information, Barker added.
"We’d definetely like to remind the public just to remain vigilant," she said.
Anyone with any information about the case is asked to call the FBI's Salt Lake City Division at 801-579-1400.