The Latest: Prosecutors say polygamists are flight risks

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2016 8:19 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Latest on food stamp fraud and money laundering charges against the leaders of a polygamous sect (all times local):

6:15 p.m.

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to keep members of a polygamous group accused of food-stamp fraud and money laundering behind bars because they are flight risks.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah argued in court documents filed late Tuesday that group leader Lyle Jeffs and 10 others are likely to flee and seek to hide in the group's elaborate network of houses throughout North and South America.

The issue is expected to be discussed at court hearings Wednesday for the people arrested.

Prosecutors say the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints based on the Utah-Arizona border uses aliases, disguises, false identification documents and pre-paid cellphones to help people avoid being caught.

Court records don't show attorneys for Lyle Jeffs and the others, or court documents responding to the allegations.

Also arrested was Seth Jeffs. He and Lyle Jeffs are top-ranking leaders group and brothers of imprisoned sect leader Warren Jeffs.

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5:20 p.m.

The U.S. Attorney for Utah says that authorities are still searching for some of the 11 members of a polygamous group accused of food-stamp fraud and money laundering.

Federal prosecutor John Huber said Tuesday at least five people have been arrested, including group leader Lyle Jeffs. He says prosecutors will ask a judge to keep Jeffs in jail ahead of trial.

Huber says that prosecutors focused the charges on the people they felt were most responsible for orchestrating what they call a yearslong fraud scheme in which church members were told to divert food-stamp benefits to the church's communal storehouse.

Huber says that there's no direct connection between his case and an ongoing civil rights trial in Phoenix, where prosecutors say the communities discriminated against non-members.

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5:05 p.m.

The leader of a South Dakota congregation of Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect is the only person arrested in that state in a federal sweep accusing sect leaders of food-stamp fraud and money laundering.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch says 42-year-old Seth Steed Jeffs was arrested in Custer County, in the state's Black Hills region, on Tuesday morning. Rydalch says Jeffs is being held pending a hearing Wednesday.

Seth Jeffs leads a compound of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members in rural Custer County.

In October, South Dakota regulators approved the group's request to draw water more quickly at its remote Black Hills compound despite opposition from residents. Residents complained that the sect declined to provide details about the number of people living there.

Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler said by email that Seth Jeffs was arrested without incident about 4 miles south of Custer on Highway 385.

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1:30 p.m.

Federal prosecutors are indicting top leaders and members of Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect on accusations of food stamp fraud and money laundering.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release Tuesday that the leaders of the sect diverted funds from Utah's nutrition assistance program for inappropriate use.

Eleven people are charged in the scheme, including Lyle Jeffs and Seth Jeffs, who are brothers of imprisoned polygamous leader Warren Jeffs.

Lyle Jeffs runs day-to-day operations in the polygamous community of Hildale, Utah, on the Arizona border. Hundreds of law enforcement agents have been raiding businesses in the town Tuesday.

Seth Jeffs leads a branch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in South Dakota.

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12:40 p.m.

Police are searching businesses in a polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah said in statement Tuesday that federal, state and local authorities are carrying out actions approved by a court. Officials didn't elaborate, saying court documents are sealed.

Spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch says the actions are taking place in Hildale and Salt Lake City.

Hildale resident Andrew Chatwin says officers on Tuesday went into buildings at five businesses owned by members of a polygamous group known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He's familiar with the businesses because he's served court papers there in the past.

Chatwin says he's seen hundreds of officers and one woman led away in handcuffs. He says the businesses include a dairy store, produce store and a contractor.