SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge is considering whether to release two top members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, accused of violating a court order by meeting under a dictate from imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.
At the end of a hearing Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart did not rule on the custody status for Seth Jeffs and John Wayman, but said he would decide soon. The two have been in jail since they were arrested three weeks ago after a middle of the night meeting that prosecutors said was commanded by Warren Jeffs.
Defense lawyers for the men did not deny the meetings took place, but insisted it was a regular part of their constitutionally-protected religious freedom rights. Wayman's attorney, James Bradshaw, argued to the judge that he is not a leader in the church -- but a member -- and subject to the commands of FLDS leadership.
In arguments, assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lund said Warren Jeffs did command these things but said to call it a religious purpose "seems to be a perversion of the 'spirit' of what would be allowed." They argued that one of Wayman's jobs was to collect tithing money and said he was the number three man in the FLDS Church.
"John Wayman is the gatekeeper," Lund told the judge, declaring Warren Jeffs as "the keyholder."
Throughout the hearing, Wayman sat quietly in a blue and white striped jail jumpsuit. He smiled at FLDS faithful who attended the hearing, but left the courtroom when arguments began.
Bradshaw argued that the FLDS community is in "crisis," with thousands being kicked out of their homes and food in short supply. He said Wayman has been working to bring relief to people in need and is not fully trusted by FLDS leadership.
But the federal government argued that Wayman is beholden to Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage "marriages." In court, it was revealed that Warren Jeffs has ordered all FLDS members to be "re-interviewed" and "re-baptized" into the church's United Order. That means many will be kicked out if they are deemed unworthy.
"He is going to receive a dictate from his prophet. That supersedes your order," Lund told the judge.
Seth Jeffs' attorney, Jay Winward, argued that while his client violated the terms of his release, he did not violate the spirit of it. In both hearings, Judge Stewart was skeptical.
"You have rationalized it," Judge Stewart said to Bradshaw. "He was told not to do it. He knew he would be discovered. Yet he did it because he was motivated by a higher cause. How do we know he won't by motivated by a higher cause to flee?"
Lawyers for Jeffs and Wayman argued for them to be released again pending trial, which they note may be delayed. So far, six FLDS members have urged the judge to delay the trial by citing the massive amounts of discovery in the case. Defense attorneys have disclosed nearly 100 Terabytes of documents, data and video have been handed over by the federal government with more coming. The trial is scheduled to start in October.
On Monday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah said it did not oppose a delay, citing the manhunt for fugitive polygamist leader Lyle Jeffs. (Wayman asked for a delay, saying the judge's ruling on his detention will affect whether he wants to delay the trial.)
Eleven FLDS members are facing food stamp fraud and money laundering charges. They're accused of ordering FLDS members to hand over Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to church leaders. The feds have claimed the scheme exceeds $12 million in taxpayer dollars.
FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs escaped after being ordered on home confinement. Federal prosecutors admitted in court that the FBI does not know where he is. FOX 13 first reported that the FBI believes Lyle Jeffs used olive oil to slip out of a GPS monitoring device.
On Monday, Judge Stewart rejected a pair of defense requests to get closer inspections of the evidence in the food stamp fraud case. He did not rule out allowing them to renew their motions if the government failed to comply with what they were already doing.