Polygamist leader flees after slipping out ankle bracelet using oil, FBI says

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Story highlights

  • Jeffs is now at large and has bodyguard protection
  • De facto church leader was due to appear in court on fraud charges

(CNN)A leader of a notorious polygamist Mormon sect has given the feds the slip -- with some help from a little olive oil.

While under house arrest awaiting a fraud trial, Bishop Lyle Jeffs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints squirmed out of an FBI ankle bracelet with the aid of a lubricant.
    "He used a substance which may have been olive oil to lubricate the GPS tracking band and slip it off his ankle," said FBI agent Eric Barnhart of the Salt Lake City field office.
    He is now at large, has bodyguard protection and considered dangerous, according to the FBI.
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    Car occupants waved goodbye

    While the device was tampered with in the escape, it wasn't sufficiently damaged to alert authorities, Barnhart told CNN affiliate KSTU.
    An arrest warrant was issued last month when he was discovered to have absconded.
    Jeffs was on pretrial release in Utah awaiting a federal trial, according to the FBI. The polygamist settled in an area known as Short Creek on the Utah-Arizona border.
    A car reportedly pulled into the garage of the Salt Lake City house where Jeffs -- and several other members of the sect -- were staying, before leaving later that night.
    Authorities were unable to determine who else was in the vehicle, or its license plate.
    Neighbor Anthony Thomasson said at least one other person was in the car, and the occupants waved goodbye as it pulled away.
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    Massive fraud

    Jeffs, his brother, Seth Jeffs, and other conspirators are accused of defrauding the government of over $12 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- more commonly known as food stamps.
    Church members who were part of a group known as the "United Order," who "donate their lives and material substance to the church," were urged to allow the conspirators to use their food stamp cards to buy food, according to court documents.
    Families that qualified for federal assistance were allegedly told to turn over their food stamp debit cards and take what they needed from a warehouse of pooled resources called "the bishop's storehouse."
    As a result, the federal government alleges, some families subsisted on beans, rice and toast, while high-ranking church members got more expensive meat, turkey and seafood.
    The government also alleges that the Jeffs brothers and others laundered money by swiping food stamp debit cards and ringing up "ghost" purchases at church-friendly businesses. The laundered cash allegedly was used on big-ticket items such as a Ford F-350 pickup truck ($30,236), a John Deere tractor ($13,561) and $16,978 in paper products.
    An additional $250,000 was allegedly spent on printing costs for Warren Jeffs' self published book of jailhouse revelations, "Jesus Christ, Message to All Nations."
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    A flight risk

    Lyle Jeffs' church split from the Church of Latter-Day Saints in the 1930s after the Mormon establishment rejected polygamy.
    Another Jeffs brother, Warren, who is in prison, was made the leader and prophet of the FLDS sect in 2002 after their father, the church's founder, died.
    Lyle Jeffs had been the de facto leader following his brother's conviction on child-sex charges relating to his underage "wives."
    Federal prosecutors wanted Jeffs to remain in jail ahead of his trial, arguing that he was a flight risk.
    It is considered unusual for a judge to order pretrial detention for a first-time offender in a white collar case.
    Ten other FLDS members charged in the alleged scheme have been allowed to post bond and leave federal detention.