FLDS Church Leaders Indicted on Charges of Fraud
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) could be in trouble as eleven church members were indicted on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit fraud. After a raid conducted by the federal government this Tuesday, it became clear that several of the leaders of the FLDS Church were allegedly stealing from their members in order to profit.
This specific group actually has quite a history. FLDS began over a century ago when members fractioned off from the Mormon Church to create their own sect, which practices polygamy, after the Mormon Church stopped allowing the practice. The FLDS Church headquarters, where most of the people indicted this week live, are in Colorado City, Arizona, which borders the southernmost part of Utah. The leader of the FLDS Church is a man named Warren Jeffs, who took over after his father passed away in 2002 and is supposedly thought to be their prophet. Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in prison for the sexual assault of two teenage girls, one fifteen and one twelve, back in 2011. It is estimated that Jeffs could have more than seventy wives and also reported that members of FLDS learn in schools that Jeffs is president of the United States.
Even more shocking than some of their beliefs and teachings is the group’s record with the law. Obviously, their leader was arrested in 2011 under sexual assault charges, but he isn’t the only one. The whole group is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for discriminating against non-church members living in their city. The DOJ claims that the religious group, which runs the entire town, denies fundamental rights like housing and police services to people who are not members of the Church–an action that is downright unconstitutional as far as separation of church and state and equality are concerned. On top of police reports of inequality, former members of the FLDS community who have been exiled have spoken out numerous times about the illegal and immoral actions of the leaders of the church. FLDS members responded to these allegations by insisting that the federal government was just trying to run them out of town for their religious beliefs and that they cannot be prosecuted just because someone doesn’t agree with their religion.
As far as this Tuesday’s incident, officers raided five stores in the town, indicting both Lyle and Seth Jeffs, who are the brothers of Warren Jeffs and head members of FLDS.
— KUTV 2News (@KUTV2News) February 23, 2016
— HaileyHiggins (@HaileyHiggins) February 23, 2016
The group has allegedly been taking funds from food stamp program members and using them for their own benefit–a crime that is considered both fraudulent and money laundering. This raid was one of the largest interventions into this community that the federal government has ever done and officers hope to use evidence of fraud in order to get all the men who were indicted held until a trial determines their fate, rather than being released on bail.
While the leaders have pled not guilty, this is a huge blow to the FLDS Church, as almost all of the people taken into custody were high ranking members of the community, without whom, the group may not be able to function. The director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, Timothy Jeffries, was proud to announce that this was “a huge win for all victims of food stamp fraud, especially for those who reside in Arizona.” He also made a statement about Arizona’s commitment to continuing to solve the issue:
I am committed to fighting for the rights of individuals who are truly in need of these benefits, which helps to put food on their table. Stealing from the poor in any manner is wrong.
The FLDS community has been asked to pray every day for Warren Jeffs’ release from prison (which is unlikely, at best) and are told that the only reason he has not been released yet is because they are not being faithful enough. Whether or not the FLDS Church will be able to continue in the absence of many of their leaders is unclear, but this could certainly spur a breakdown of the oppressive and apparently fraudulently-run group.