Aug 20, 2016

Church recordings said to be among evidence in polygamous sect food stamp fraud case

The Salt Lake Tribune
August 20, 2016

A government informant made audio recordings during Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints services, and some of those recordings may help followers accused of food stamp fraud, according to a defense motion.

A lawyer for Lyle Jeffs, a former bishop in the FLDS Church and one of the 11 defendants indicted with two counts of conspiracy, described the evidence in a motion filed Friday. The lawyer, Kathryn Nester, said prosecutors recently provided the recordings to the defense.

"The disclosures received on August 1, contain many hours of tape recordings surreptitiously recorded during private church meetings as far back as 2011," Nester wrote. "It appears that at least one member of the United Order who was attending the meetings was wearing a recording device, unknown to the members around him or her."

The United Order is the elite subset of the FLDS. Prosecutors contend that when Jeffs was the bishop, he instructed United Order members who received food stamp benefits to turn in their government-issued debit cards to the church. In some cases, the cards were used at FLDS-controlled stores and converted into cash.

Jeffs and his co-defendants have filed motions asking the indictments be dismissed on religious grounds, saying the defendants had the religious right to donate their food stamp benefits to their church and that they did not believe they were doing anything illegal.


"More than one conversation on the tapes contains exculpatory evidence that would assist Defendants at their Motion to Dismiss evidentiary hearing as well as their trial," Nester wrote.

Nester's motion updated federal Judge Ted Stewart on how much evidence has been turned over to the defense and to ask him what the rules will be at the hearing scheduled for Sept. 6. Some of the defendants may testify about their religious beliefs, Nester wrote, and she wanted to know the extent to which prosecutors will be allowed to cross-examine the defendants.

All sides have described the volume of evidence in the case as massive, and including hidden-camera video taken from at least one FLDS-run store, Meadowayne Dairy in Colorado City, Ariz. A government informant apparently also helped obtain that video. It was not clear Saturday whether it was the same person who made the church recordings.

All 11 defendants are scheduled for trial on Oct. 3. At least three defendants, Nephi Allred and husband and wife Hyrum Bygnal Dutson and Kristal Meldrum Dutson, have asked the trial be delayed until at least May, citing the amount of evidence to review.

Nester's motion made no mention of the whereabouts of her client. Jeffs removed his ankle monitor and fled the home where he was staying in mid-June. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. He remains at large.

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