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The polygamous sect once led by Warren Jeffs is in trouble again. Eleven leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints face criminal charges. Federal prosecutors say they conspired to commit food stamp fraud and money laundering. Terry Gildea from KUER in Salt Lake City reports.
TERRY GILDEA, BYLINE: This morning, defendants Lyle Jeffs and John Wayman filed into a federal courtroom in downtown Salt Lake to be arraigned on two counts of fraud and money laundering. Lyle Jeffs is the brother of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of the FLDS Church. Both men pleaded not guilty. The indictment alleges Jeffs, Wayman and others took more than $12 million from food stamp recipients, laundered it and used it to maintain a series of safe houses and hiding places. Outside the courthouse, federal prosecutor Robert Lund spoke to reporters about the charges Jeffs and Wayman are facing.
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ROBERT LUND: The legal authorities preclude diversion of federal funds for purposes other than the stated purpose. And so, to the extent that federal monies were diverted for purposes other than intended, that's a crime.
GILDEA: Both Jeffs and Wayman will appear at detention hearings in the coming week. Lund says it's imperative that both defendants be held in custody.
LUND: And we have serious concerns about the defendants' flight risks, their access to locations and resources that could help them abscond and keep themselves from the court's jurisdiction.
GILDEA: One former member of the FLDS Church in the courtroom was Lyle Jeffs' son, Thomas. He says he's sad to see his father in custody, but believes the arrests could break down the hold these leaders have over the religious community.
THOMAS JEFFS: When I was even in the church I asked him why we were doing that. And he says, we'll be fine, and we're 10 steps ahead of the government, so there's nothing to fear.
GILDEA: Several other defendants were arraigned in St. George, Utah. Attorneys for the defendants and FLDS church authorities did not comment. This is the second federal case currently pending against the polygamous sect. The other is a religious discrimination suit being heard in Arizona. For NPR News, I'm Terry Gildea in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.