Lyle Jeffs, who escaped before trial for alleged multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme, caught in South Dakota apparently living in a pickup truck
Spending nearly a year on the run, the polygamous sect leader Lyle Jeffs was captured in South Dakota after he pawned two pairs of pliers and provided a real identification card, authorities and the pawn shop owner said.
The suspicious pawn shop employee notified the owner that Jeffs was wanted by the FBI, who learned more about him online and alerted authorities.
Jeffs was alone near a lakeside marina, just hours from a compound run by his polygamous group, when an off-duty police detective spotted a pickup truck Thursday that a tipster told police Jeffs had been driving, said Eric Barnhart, FBI special agent in charge for the Salt Lake City division.
Jeffs complied with officers when he was arrested on Wednesday at a lakeside marina near the small town of Yankton in the south-eastern corner of South Dakota, Barnhart said. Authorities believe he had been in that area for the past two weeks and was living out of his pickup truck.
Authorities had been hunting for Jeffs since he escaped home confinement in Utah on 18 June 2016, ahead of his trial in an alleged multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme.
The events leading to Jeffs capture started Tuesday when he went to the River City Treasures and Pawn shop and sold two pairs of Leatherman pliers for $37 and provided his ID, owner Kevin Haug said in an interview.
A store employee notified Haug that Jeffs was wanted by the FBI after Jeffs had left the store.
Jeffs also visited the store last week and tried to sell a tool but the store did not buy them that time, and Jeffs did not identify himself. During Jeffs first visit, Haug said, the fugitive was fidgeting, seemed nervous and was acting like a freak.
The FBI had issued a $50,000 reward and a wanted poster with bold red lettering saying Jeffs should be considered armed and dangerous. It came a decade after his brother, Warren Jeffs, was featured on a similar poster. Warren Jeffs is now serving a life sentence in a Texas prison.
Barnhart said investigators believe Jeffs was running out of resources and not getting much help from members of the sect. He said investigators were still trying to determine Jeffs movements for the rest of the time he was missing and declined to discuss other tips received by agents.
He spent that whole time, Im sure, looking over his shoulder, wondering about every police officer he saw, every highway patrolman, what person would eventually give him up, Barnhart told reporters.
Jeffs will likely face at least one new felony charge connected to his time on the run, said John Huber, US attorney for Utah.
Its a serious offense to flee justice, and we do not take it lightly. We do not give up. Youre not going to get away with it, Huber said.
Jeffs group, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is based in a small community on the Utah-Arizona border. Members of the sect believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. The group is an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.
The group also has a small compound in far west South Dakota that was established more than a decade ago. Known to the faithful as R23, the compound sits along a gravel road, secluded by tall pine trees, a privacy fence and a guard tower. Barnhart said it was unclear if Jeffs spent any time there.
Jeffs was scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Thursday in Sioux Falls and was expected to be returned to Utah in the coming days to face the pending food stamp fraud charges, said Jeffs attorney, Kathryn Nester.
Jeffs became a fugitive the weekend of 18-19 June 2016, when he slipped off his GPS ankle monitor using olive oil or another lubricant and fled from a Salt Lake City house where he was on supervised home release, authorities have said. Jeffs and 10 others from the sect were charged with fraud and money laundering in a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme.
Prosecutors accused Jeffs and other sect leaders of instructing followers to buy items with their food stamp cards and give them to a church warehouse where leaders decided how to distribute products to followers.
They say food stamps were also cashed at sect-owned stores without the users getting anything in return. The money was then diverted to front companies and used to pay thousands for a tractor, truck and other items, prosecutors have said.
The defendants denied wrongdoing and said they were just sharing food as part of their communal living practices.
Lyle Jeffs was the last of the defendants in the food stamp fraud case still behind bars when the US district judge Ted Stewart reversed an earlier decision and granted his his release on 9 June. Prosecutors opposed that move, arguing Jeffs was a flight risk.
You have those times when you dont want to say, I told you so, but thats kind of where were at, Huber said. We had very serious concerns.
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