Fugitive polygamous sect leader Lyle Jeffs has been finally caught by authorities in South Dakota on Thursday after almost a year of being on the run. Apparently, the discredited leader was living out of his pickup all along.
FBI Special Agent Eric Bamhart for the Salt Lake City Division said Jeffs was caught alone near a lakeside marina and mere hours away from a compound run by the polygamous group. An off-duty police detective spotted the same truck on Thursday which a tipster told the police Jeffs was driving a few days earlier. The arrest was made near the small town of Yankton in the southeastern corner of South Dakota.
Authorities believe that Jeffs may have been in the area for the last two weeks. Jeffs had been wanted since he made an escape from home confinement in Utah on June 18, 2016, before his scheduled trial in an alleged multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme.
The FBI even issued a $50,000 reward for information that will lead to Jeffs’s arrest. The agency warned the public that Jeffs was armed and dangerous. The FBI announced the capture of Jeffs on Thursday with a Twitter message: “#ARRESTED FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs in custody after nearly a year on the lam.”
The agency will still decide whether the unidentified tipster will get a reward. Barnhart said investigators think that the sect leader was already running out of resources and not getting as much help from the members of his group.
Jeffs is likely to face at least one new felony charge in relation to his time as a fugitive. U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said confidently that the arrest of Jeffs demonstrates that law enforcement eventually catch fugitives. Huber said: “It’s a serious offense to flee justice and we do not take it lightly. We do not give up. You are not going to get away with it.”
The sect Jeffs led was known as the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Letter Day Saints, based in a small community on the Utah-Arizona border. Members of the sect think polygamy would bring about “exaltation in heaven”. The sect is considered an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which already disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.
Prosecutors previously accused Jeffs and his other sect leaders prior to his escape of ordering their followers to buy items with their food stamp cards and give them to a church warehouse where leaders decided to control how to distribute the products to followers. It was also alleged that the food stamps were cashed at sect-owned stores but without the users getting anything in return. The money fraudulently earned from the anomaly was then diverted to front companies and used to pay thousands for a tractor, truck and other items.
While Jeffs was on the run, though, nine of the other 10 people charged in the anomaly accepted plea deals. Charges against one man were even dismissed, triggering wide criticisms that federal prosecutors were too easy on the other defendants. Huber made the guarantee after Jeffs’s arrest that authorities consider him the lead defendant in the case and said “he would be treated differently.”