SALT LAKE CITY -- A top member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church struck a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, admitting to food stamp fraud in a deal that gets him released from jail immediately.
The plea hearing was arranged hours after U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart rejected a request to release John Wayman and Seth Jeffs from jail pending trial. Speaking softly, Wayman agreed to plead guilty to a single count of food stamp fraud.
"Has anyone offered you any inducements or threatened to get you to plead guilty?" Judge Stewart asked.
"No," Wayman replied.
"Is it your intention to plead guilty of your own free will?"
Wayman admitted that between 2011 and 2016, he knowingly facilitated Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to non-beneficiaries. Federal prosecutors have charged 11 FLDS members with food stamp fraud and money laundering charges, accusing them of ordering followers of the Utah-based polygamous church to hand over SNAP benefits to leaders, to do with as they wish. The feds allege the scheme exceeds $12 million in taxpayer dollars.
But under the deal, Wayman gets released from jail immediately and has to pay no restitution. He also doesn't have any probation and a $100 fine. The feds have also agreed not to indict him for any other crimes that they may be aware of. Wayman has been in jail for six months already after being arrested for violating a court order prohibiting him from contact with other defendants.
Federal prosecutors said he met with Seth Jeffs in Colorado City, in a meeting ordered by imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs (a brother of Seth Jeffs and FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs).
Wayman's attorney, Jim Bradshaw, noted in court that they would have presented a defense of religious freedom, arguing that the FLDS have a right under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to consecrate their property to their church. It was a defense the judge rejected when he refused to dismiss the indictment, but allowed FLDS members to bring it up at trial.
"How do you plead to the charge?" Judge Stewart asked Wayman.
"Guilty," he replied.
The judge immediately imposed the sentence agreed upon by the prosecution and defense. Federal prosecutors defended their plea bargain offer, saying they believe it sends a message to the "culture of fraud" within the FLDS community, resolves the religious freedom issues and obtains guilty pleas. They also appeared to acknowledge some difficulty in obtaining a plea deal.
"It's a very unique case that has unique legal issues," assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lund told the judge.
FOX 13 has confirmed that plea deals have been offered to other defendants in the case, with one already notifying the government he will accept it. Lund said outside of court that no deal has been offered to Lyle Jeffs, who remains on the run.
Read the plea deal by John Wayman here: