SALT LAKE CITY — A polygamous sect leader's life on the run came to end Wednesday after he hocked a couple pairs of pliers at a pawn shop in a small South Dakota town the day before.
Lyle Steed Jeffs sold the Leatherman multitools for $37 at River City Treasures and Pawn in Yankton, South Dakota, on Tuesday using his last name as his first name, said owner Kevin Haug. Jeffs, he said, handed over his actual ID and filled out the form to complete the deal.
"That was Lyle’s master plan to avoid capture was telling that my first name’s my last name, I guess," Haug said.
Haug wasn't in the store at the time but said his employee thought Jeffs was "acting strangely" and Googled his name after he left. Jeffs came up wanted.
"He tends to pick up a lot on people. I don't know how he does it, but he's really perceptive," Haug said.
Haug and his employee, who he said didn't want his name used, called local police and the FBI.
Jeffs, who is accused of heading an intricate food stamp fraud scheme, apparently was living out of his pickup truck near the southeastern South Dakota town on the Missouri River when authorities arrested him.
The tipster provided police a partial description of the late-model silver Ford F-150 with Utah plates Jeffs was driving, said Eric Barnhart, FBI special agent in charge in Salt Lake City.
"That information was absolutely instrumental," he said.
An off-duty Yankton police detective spotted the vehicle, suspecting it was driven by Jeffs, and police pulled over the vehicle at a recreation area marina southwest of Sioux Falls. Barnhart said the arrest was uneventful.
Jeffs, who has appeared to be running the Fundamentalist LDS Church on behalf of his imprisoned brother, was booked into the Minnehaha County Jail late Wednesday. He waived an identity hearing in federal court in Sioux Falls on Thursday and deferred his detention hearing until he returns to Utah.
Barnhart said he expects Jeffs to be back in the state in the next few days.
Haug and his employee might be entitled to as much as $50,000 in reward money the FBI offered for Jeffs' capture. Haug said he wasn't aware of the reward when he called police. He said he and his employee would split the money.
Barnhart said he would have to talk to his legal team about the reward, but "we need to be men and women of our word. We want to do what's right because without this person's assistance, we wouldn't be here today."
Investigators have reason to believe Jeffs was in the area for at least two weeks and living out of his vehicle, Barnhart said, adding that he appeared to have "limited resources." Yankton is 400 miles from an FLDS compound outside the tiny town of Pringle in southwestern South Dakota.
The FBI has no solid evidence that FLDS members or others were helping Jeffs elude authorities, but investigators are trying to patch together where he was and with whom he interacted the past year, Barnhart said.
Jeffs, the brother of the church's incarcerated prophet, Warren Jeffs, was arrested in February 2016 as part of an indictment alleging $191,000 in fraud.
Lyle Jeffs was released June 9, 2016, after his attorney argued it would violate her client's rights to keep him in custody until a monthlong trial scheduled later that year. Days later, Lyle Jeffs disappeared after investigators say he used olive oil to slip a GPS ankle monitor off his foot without triggering an alarm.
According to the indictment, Lyle Jeffs and other FLDS leaders diverted church members' benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, away from the people authorized to receive them to instead be used as church leaders saw fit.
In some cases, the indictment claims people were instructed to swipe their SNAP cards as if making purchases in church-owned businesses but left empty-handed.
U.S. Attorney John Huber said Lyle Jeffs faces additional felony charges as a result of his flight from custody.
"It's a serious offense to flee justice, and we do not take it lightly," Huber said.
At the time of Lyle Jeffs' arrest, prosecutors and one of the man's estranged sons said they believed the FLDS leader would run if released, using the same plans and resources believed to have kept Warren Jeffs out of the reach of the law in 2006.15 comments on this story
"Our working theory was that he probably had less support than his brother had when his brother fled a number of years ago," Barnhart said.
Of the 11 people originally indicted in the case, Lyle Jeffs is the only one still facing charges. Following his arrest, notice was filed in U.S. District Court announcing that the case has been reopened.
Nine of the people arrested alongside Lyle Jeffs have since accepted plea deals, and one person had his charges dismissed.
Contributing: Dave Cawley, McKenzie Romero