Judge orders detention hearing for former FLDS bishop in food stamp fraud case
SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has ordered that the man who provided Warren Jeffs with a getaway car and resources during his 2006 run from the law remain in custody pending a new hearing as he faces allegations of food stamp fraud in the Utah-based FLDS community.
John Clifton Wayman, a former bishop for the Fundamentalist LDS Church in Short Creek, is charged along with 10 others of conspiracy to commit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) benefits fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a two-count indictment unsealed Tuesday.
Prosecutors say church members' food stamp proceeds were diverted from authorized beneficiaries to leaders of the church to use as they saw fit, amounting to millions of dollars in fraud.
In conjunction with the indictment, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a motion and more than 180 pages of exhibits arguing that an elaborate system of concealment and ways to avoid detection across several countries developed by FLDS leaders make the defendants extreme flight risks should they be released from custody.
The system to avoid being caught was established originally to protect Jeffs, the church's prophet, according to prosecutors.
Attorneys on Friday argued over a threshold for those assertions, with U.S. Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead ruling that the government does have a foundation for its motion to keep Wayman in custody. A detention hearing was set for March 10.
William "Willie" Jessop, a disaffected member of the FLDS Church since 2010, testified that based on a lifetime of knowing Wayman that the former special assistant to Jeffs would run at a moment's notice if the incarcerated leader of the church asked him to.
"Mr. Wayman has prided himself that nothing would get in between him and a directive from Warren Jeffs," Jessop said. "I'm giving you my opinion based on my whole life knowing John. Mr. Wayman is at very high risk of running at the beckoning of Mr. Jeffs."
James Bradshaw, Wayman's attorney, argued that the court would be walking on "dangerous ground" if it chose to detain Wayman based on his belief in the FLDS Church or his loyalty to Jeffs rather than objective fact.
"The idea that the strength of someone's testimony, or what's in their heart about their religion (is a reason to detain them), I don't think gets it done," Bradshaw argued.
While Pead agreed it would be inappropriate to keep someone in custody based purely on religious conviction, the judge said Wayman's alleged involvement in Jeffs' getaway is evidence that he subscribes to the same mistrust of government and the belief that religious authority usurps the law of the land.
According to a pretrial assessment, there's a 1 percent likelihood of Wayman running from the law or obstructing justice, the attorney said.
Additionally, Bradshaw called it speculation on the part of Jessop, a man who hasn't had contact with Jeffs in years, that the incarcerated leader of the church would instruct Wayman to go on the lam.
"Why is it we think now that Warren Jeffs is going to order that Mr. Wayman flee?" Bradshaw asked, noting that FLDS defendants in separate, previous cases have all kept their court dates, including up until incarceration for some.
Jessop testified that Wayman and his business may be "the single largest cash contributor to Mr. Jeffs," and that his financial support had elevated him to become the prophet's trusted assistant, ranking above even the bishops in the church. In return, Wayman was a devoted servant, Jessop said.
Discussing the influence that Jeffs and FLDS leaders wield over church members, Jessop said, "That power is not even measurable. It's absolutely off the charts."
While Bradshaw contended that Wayman has not held an official position within the FLDS Church for years, Jessop testified and Pead agreed that Wayman is still a person of authority in the community.
During Jessop's time working in security for Jeffs' branch of the FLDS Church, he said he talked often with Wayman about methods of keeping the head of the church out of the hands of the law, first to keep him from answering a subpoena and later to avoid capture.
Together they discussed "houses, phone cards, motorbikes, houses of hiding. (Wayman's) place was kind of the central location in Las Vegas for all of that," Jessop said.
In its motion, the attorney's office wrote, "FLDS leaders have developed an elaborate system for moving and hiding members of the group in order to avoid law enforcement detection. The system includes a network of homes and apartments known as 'houses of hiding' as well as larger compounds known as 'places of refuge.'"
According to prosecutors, that intricate underground system includes places of refuge throughout the United States and in western Canada, Mexico and locations in South America owned by Warren Jeffs' brother, Lyle, that very few FLDS followers have been told about. Protocols were put in place to change vehicles, use burner cellphones, wear disguises, and have fake IDs ready to avoid detection, prosecutors said in the motion.
Pead called evidence of the purported system to evade law enforcement "troubling."
Six people, including Wayman, were arrested during FBI raids Tuesday, while three others later surrendered. Three men remained in custody Friday.
Lyle Jeffs, 56, who prosecutors believe is helping enforce his brother's rule while he is in prison, is in the Davis County Jail awaiting a detention hearing March 7.
Nephi Steed Allred surrendered to authorities Thursday and was booked into the Washington County Jail. He made an initial appearance in federal court in St. George on Friday and is expected to return for a detention hearing Wednesday.
Seth Steed Jeffs, 42, is in custody in Pennington County, South Dakota, with a detention hearing set for Monday.
Federal prosecutors agreed Thursday to release three others from the Washington County Jail — Winford Johnson Barlow, 50; Kristal Meldrum Dutson, 55; and Ruth Peine Barlow, 41 — provided they wear GPS ankle monitors.
Two additional men accused in the indictment — Hyrum Bygnal Dutson, 55, and Preston Yates Barlow, 41 — surrendered to authorities in southern Utah on Friday. Both were released later in the day after agreeing to conditions including GPS monitoring.
Arrest warrants remained outstanding Friday for Kimball Dee Barlow, 51, and Rulon Mormon Barlow, 45.
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