SALT LAKE CITY — A member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church apparently wore a wire and secretly recorded meetings of the cloistered Utah-based polygamous sect for years.
Those recordings have now been used by the FBI to help build a massive fraud case against 11 members of the FLDS Church, who are now accused of food stamp fraud and money laundering. The tape recordings were disclosed by attorneys for fugitive polygamist leader Lyle Jeffs in a weekend court filing.
“The disclosures received on August 1, contain many hours of tape recordings surreptitiously recorded during private church meetings as far back as 2011. 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,” Jeffs’ defense attorney, Kathryn Nester, wrote.
“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. Defense counsel’s brief review of the tapes so far has also revealed secretly recorded sermons and discussions with church leaders that bear directly on the issue of the sincere religious beliefs of Defendants.”
Nester seeks to have the judge weigh in on the use of those recordings by government prosecutors, the context of them as well as future witnesses and other motions that await rulings. It comes as other defendants in the case ask to delay what’s expected to be a month-long trial set to start in October.
The defense makes no mention of the whereabouts of Lyle Jeffs, who vanished shortly after being released from jail pending trial. FOX 13 first reported in June that federal agents believe he used olive oil to slip out of a GPS monitoring device. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said in court documents his brother, imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, sent Lyle Jeffs on a “repentance mission.”
It is not the first time that someone has secretly recorded FLDS sermons. Prior to being excommunicated from the church more than a decade ago, one member said he hollowed out a Book of Mormon and recorded Warren Jeffs delivering apocalyptic predictions and then handed them to law enforcement (and this reporter).
Warren Jeffs has also had many of his own edicts and proclamations recorded and they are played back by some of his most faithful followers. At one time on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, Warren Jeffs is now serving life in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage “marriages.”
A federal grand jury in February indicted 11 people on food stamp fraud and money laundering charges. They are accused of ordering FLDS Church members to hand over Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to leaders. Government prosecutors claim the money was misused, including Lyle Jeffs purchasing a luxury car.
Read the defense filing here: