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Polygamist leader Lyle Jeffs wants fugitive charge severed from food stamp trial

SALT LAKE CITY — Polygamist leader Lyle Jeffs’ defense attorneys have asked a federal judge to separate a failure to appear charge from the upcoming trial on food stamp fraud related charges.

In a filing in U.S. District Court, Jeffs’ attorneys asked that the counts be severed.

“The nature of the crimes are completely different, one involving fraud and one involving failing to appear. The witnesses and evidence involved in the offenses are completely separate, leaving no suggestion of any common scheme or plan,” Jeffs’ attorney, Kathy Nester, wrote.

A booking mug shot of Lyle Jeffs. (Image via Tooele County Sheriff’s Office)

Nester argued that the incidents also took place years apart and in geographically separate areas. She also objected to the government planning to use writings of his brother, imprisoned Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs.

“In defending against Count Three, Mr. Jeffs must challenge the use and admission of such irrelevant statements in the appropriate motion, in the appropriate time and in the appropriate context. Yet this necessary tact prejudicially presents Mr. Jeffs with a Hobson’s Choice,” Nester wrote.

“Specifically, any objectionable religious edicts or otherwise inflammatory materials offered by the government on the failure to appear count could necessarily and unavoidably taint the jury’s ability to fairly weigh evidence of edicts inextricably intertwined with the evidence of Mr. Jeffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs. A strategic decision to defend one Count should never prejudice a defendant’s ability to present evidence in support of other Counts.”

Warren Jeffs is serving life in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage marriages. Ex-members say he continues to run the FLDS Church from prison.

Lyle Jeffs is facing food stamp fraud related charges. He is the last of 11 FLDS members accused in a massive scheme prosecutors allege bilked taxpayers out of more than $12 million. FLDS leaders are accused of ordering members of the Utah-based polygamous church to hand over Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The FLDS have argued a religious right to consecrate all they have to their faith.

The other defendants either took plea deals or had charges dismissed.

Jeffs is also facing a failure to appear charge stemming from his time on the run. The FBI said he used olive oil to slip out of a GPS monitoring device and escape home confinement. He was arrested in June in South Dakota.

His trial is scheduled to start in October.

Read the filing here: