SALT LAKE CITY - 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.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah pushed back in the filing against the assertion made by Jeffs and 10 other suspects that they shared the food stamps as part of their communal living practices that are protected by religious rights.
Attorneys for the suspects -- indicted in February on fraud and money laundering charges -- said in a court brief in July that pooling the food stamps benefited the group because they got more food for less money by buying in bulk.
Prosecutors scoffed at that theory in their brief, writing: "Jeffs' proffered vision of the scheme is not the reality."
Jeffs and 10 other sect members are accused of buying items with their food stamp cards and taking them to a church warehouse where leaders decided how to distribute the products to followers in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
Authorities also say food stamps were cashed at sect-owned stores without the users getting anything in return.
The money was then diverted to front companies and used to pay for a tractor, truck and other items, prosecutors say.
Investigators found that the warehouse hardly ever had enough food to provide all members with a nutritious diet. Followers often went without meat, fruit or vegetables while leaders ate well and laundered money to buy the vehicles and other things, prosecutors say, contending that at least one child had severe health issues as a result.
Prosecutors took specific aim at Lyle Jeffs and John Wayman in the latest filing, saying the two men were motivated by profit, not religious beliefs, and that their families directly benefited by getting preferential treatment at the storehouse and other benefits from the scheme.
Lyle Jeffs is a fugitive after slipping off his GPS ankle monitor in late June and escaping home confinement in Salt Lake City. His brother Warren Jeffs sits in a Texas prison serving a life sentence after being convicted of sexually assaulting girls he considered brides.
Wayman is a former bishop in Hildale and Colorado City, and a close confidant of Warren Jeffs, prosecutors say.
The group, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism.