Feds push judge to block FLDS from claiming ‘religious right’ to hand over food stamps

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SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors are again asking a judge to block members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church from claiming a “religious right” to hand over food stamp benefits to the polygamous sect.

In court filings on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah urged a judge to reject that claim in the massive food stamp fraud case involving 11 FLDS Church members and leaders.

The 11 defendants charged in the FLDS food stamp fraud case.

The 11 defendants charged in the FLDS food stamp fraud case.

“SNAP laws and regulations require that beneficiaries use their SNAP benefits to purchase eligible food from authorized retailers for the recipient’s household. This necessarily precludes beneficiaries from donating their benefits, and necessarily prevents FLDS leaders from systematically requiring members to donate their benefits to the FLDS Church to be used outside of the authorized households as the church leaders see fit. Defendants have not provided a single regulation or authority to the contrary,” assistant U.S. Attorney Tyler Murray wrote.

In their own filings, defense attorneys have argued that it is a part of the FLDS belief system to consecrate their property to the church — including Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

In other court filings, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah urged a judge to reject other legal challenges mounted by the defense, including claims that some communications swept up by the government in its investigation may be protected by clergy and marital privilege.

A judge has yet to rule on the motions.

Eleven members of the Utah-based polygamous church are accused of ordering FLDS members to hand over SNAP benefits. Federal prosecutors claim the scheme exceeds $12 million in taxpayer dollars.

Recently, FLDS Church leader Lyle Jeffs escaped from home confinement. FOX 13 first reported the FBI believes he used olive oil to slip out of a GPS monitoring device. FLDS leaders Seth Jeffs and John Wayman were arrested, accused of meeting in violation of the terms of their pre-trial release under orders from imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

Seth Jeffs and Wayman are due in court August 22.

Read the federal government’s filing on religious rights here: