A Utah religious group that has been described by the the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “white supremacist, homophobic, anti-government, totalitarian cult” could be on its last legs after being charged with food stamp fraud.
Prosecutors allege that leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ordered members to give their SNAP benefits—in food and cash transfers—to the church, which collects and redistributes commodities to the community, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported. That is illegal. The leaders tell church members that they must obtain their food and household goods only through the church, the indictment alleges.
A large percentage of FLDS church members living in an area on the Utah-Arizona border known as Short Creek receive SNAP benefits, amounting to millions of dollars in benefits per year, the Justice Department said.
Lyle Jeffs, who has been running the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) for his imprisoned brother and church founder Warren, is one of nearly a dozen people named in an indictment that was unsealed Tuesday while FBI agents and sheriffs deputies searched businesses in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., that are owned by members of the FLDS, the Tribune reported. Warren Jeffs is currently serving a sentence of up to life in prison plus 20 years in Texas for crimes related to marrying and sexually abusing underage girls.
"If they're finally going to prosecute Lyle and the leaders of the church, it will eventually bring the church down," Wallace Jeffs, Warren Jeffs' half-brother who was expelled from the church, said according to the Washington Post. "This pretty much cuts the head off the snake."
In his sermons, Warren Jeffs has declared homosexuality “the worst evil act you can do, next to murder,” and implored women to “build up young husbands by being submissive.” The church has 6,000 members in Short Creek in addition to networks across the Americas.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.