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Judge won’t separate charges against polygamist leader Lyle Jeffs

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has refused to try polygamist leader Lyle Jeffs separately on food stamp fraud and fugitive-related charges.

In an order handed down Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart rejected a defense request to sever the counts against Jeffs ahead of his October trial.

“Even if Defendant could demonstrate some prejudice, he has failed to demonstrate that any prejudice outweighs the expense and inconvenience of separate trials. As the government points out, selecting a jury will be more difficult and time consuming than the ordinary case,” the judge wrote.

FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs arrives at the federal courthouse in Sioux Falls, SD. (Image KSFY via CNN)

Jeffs’ defense attorneys argued the counts should be separated for a number of reasons, including an impact on his ability to testify in his defense and the government’s proposed use of writings by his brother, imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

In his ruling, the judge declared there were other ways around those issues.

Jeffs, once a top bishop in the Fundamentalist LDS Church, is the last of 11 people facing fraud and money laundering charges in one of the nation’s largest food stamp fraud cases. Prosecutors allege FLDS leaders ordered faithful members to hand over government benefits, a scheme in excess of $12 million.

The others in the case have either struck plea deals or had charges dismissed. The FBI said Jeffs escaped home confinement by slipping out of a GPS monitoring device last year. He was arrested in South Dakota in June.

Read the judge’s ruling here: