FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs released from jail pending food stamp fraud trial

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge has released Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Lyle Jeffs from jail pending trial in a massive food stamp fraud case.

Following a hearing on Thursday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart agreed with defense attorneys that with a delay in the trial, Jeffs should be released.

"No comment," Jeffs told FOX 13's Ben Winslow as he left the federal courthouse, refusing to answer any questions.

FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs leaves federal court on Thursday after being released from jail. (Image by Mike Reidel, FOX 13 News)

FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs leaves federal court on Thursday after being released from jail. (Image by Mike Reidel, FOX 13 News)

Judge Stewart set some strict conditions on the polygamist leader upon his release: Jeffs must live in Salt Lake County, be confined to that home (with exceptions for employment, education or religious services), wear a GPS monitoring device, and have no contact with any potential victims, witnesses, co-defendants or his brother, imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Defense attorneys argued that some of the restrictions means he may have little contact with anyone.

"If that means no interaction with members of the community, so be it," Judge Stewart replied.

Federal prosecutors objected to Jeffs being able to attend religious services in the FLDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

"He's not allowed to travel outside of Salt Lake County during the course of trial," the judge said.

Jeffs and 10 other FLDS members and leaders are charged with food stamp fraud and money laundering. They're accused of ordering church members to hand over Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to leaders to do with as they wished. Federal prosecutors have claimed in court filings the amount of fraud exceeds $12 million.

FLDS Church members leave federal court on Thursday after their leader, Lyle Jeffs, was released from custody. (Image by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

FLDS Church members leave federal court on Thursday after their leader, Lyle Jeffs, was released from custody. (Image by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The trial was originally set to begin May 31, but federal prosecutors asked for a delay until October -- noting there is more than 56 Terabytes of evidence gathered in the case and recently given to defense attorneys. Some defense attorneys have considered yet another delay to May 2017. In court, it was revealed the trial could last more than a month with more than 200 witnesses.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah fought hard to keep Lyle Jeffs in jail, arguing that he was a flight risk and exercised "great power" over people in the FLDS Church. Prosecutors argued that Jeffs is consulted on nearly every decision made in the community from where to work, to when to hook up plumbing in a house.

Defense attorney Kathryn Nester argued that with the delay, Jeffs is entitled to be released and his right to a speedy trial must be respected. The judge warned Jeffs that if he were to violate the terms of his release, he would be put back in jail.

"We always respect the judge's decision but we'll see what we have to do," assistant U.S. Attorney Tyler Murray told FOX 13 as he left court.

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