FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs pleads guilty to food stamp fraud

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

FILE – This Jan. 21, 2015 file photo, Lyle Jeffs leaves the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. Jeffs pleaded guilty Wednesday to food stamp fraud and failing to appear in court.

SALT LAKE CITY — From faith leader to fugitive, Lyle Jeffs pleaded guilty Wednesday to food stamp fraud and failing to appear in court.

Jeffs, 57, was accused last year alongside 11 other leaders and members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church in an indictment alleging $191,000 in food stamp fraud.

But while the other 10 defendants resolved their cases with no prison time, Jeffs slipped an ankle monitor and fled, spending nearly a year on the run before being captured in June in South Dakota.

Back in custody, Jeffs was brought before U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart in a shackles and a striped jail uniform Wednesday. As the judge questioned Jeffs on whether he was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty, Jeffs replied softly, “Yes sir, as far as I understand.”

Stewart went on to call the deal between Jeffs and federal prosecutors “unique.”

For one count of conspiracy to commit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits fraud, Jeffs is facing one year in federal prison. For the second count, failure to appear in court, the judge could hand down a prison sentence anywhere between two and four years. The prison terms would run concurrently.

Stewart emphasized to Jeffs that means he could spend anywhere between three and five years in prison, depending on what the judge decides once a presentence report is completed. His incarceration would be followed by probation.

Stewart noted that he is not bound by the recommendation, however, and should he come back and announce that more prison time is warranted, Jeffs will have an opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea.

Following the hearing, U.S. Attorney John Huber praised the…

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