The FBI thinks that Lyle Jeffs, the polygamist religious leader accused in a multimillion-dollar food stamp scheme, disappeared from house arrest this summer by coating his ankle monitor in olive oil and sliding it off.
That explanation may fly with nonbelievers, but in court documents filed last week, Jeffs’s attorney has put forth a divine reason for his disappearance — the miracle of rapture:
As this Court is well aware, Mr. Jeffs is currently not available to inform his counsel whether or not he agrees to the Continuance. Whether his absence is based on absconding, as oft alleged by the Government in their filings, or whether he was taken and secreted against his will, or whether he experienced the miracle of rapture is unknown to counsel.
Rapture, for the uninitiated, is the Christian belief that during the second coming of Christ, the holy will be whisked away to heaven.
Kathryn Nester, Jeffs’s public defender, filed the documents in support of a continuance because Jeffs had been missing for a month, leaving only the greasy ankle monitor behind.
The FBI isn’t buying the heavenly intervention angle.
The organization issued a wanted poster for Jeffs, who is “thought to be a leader in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”
The church is not affiliated with the Mormon church — they separated decades ago. FLDS members practice polygamy and have been accused of taking wives who are too young to give consent, The Washington Post wrote in February.
Agents say Jeffs is most likely hiding out in one of the safe houses belonging to the church, and that he “should be considered armed and dangerous.”
The FBI is offering $50,000 for information that leads to Jeffs’s arrest. No person or divine entity has come forward to claim the reward since it was announced Monday.
The case is more than just an outlandish excuse for a defendant on the lam. The controversial church’s existence may hinge on whether Lyle Jeffs is free or not.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has called the FLDS “a white supremacist, homophobic, anti-government, totalitarian cult” that has taken over small towns on the Utah-Arizona border. In a civil rights trial, prosecutors argued that two of those communities discriminate against people who are not church members, according to The Post.
As Melissa Etehad wrote in The Post, the FLDS “came under national scrutiny when the church’s self-described ‘prophet,’ Lyle Jeffs’s brother Warren Jeffs, was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for raping a child.”
FLDS teaches that the biblical character Cain “was cursed with a black skin and he is the father of the Negro people,” according to the SPLC, and that homosexuality is “the worst evil act you can do, next to murder.”
In her book “Stolen Innocence,” former FLDS child bride Elissa Wall recounts that Jeffs taught everyone that “nonwhite people were the most evil of all outsiders.”
Women followers of FLDS are often seen wearing prairie dresses to “cover their bodies from neck to ankles because their bodies are considered sacred temples that can’t be exposed,” according to ABC News. “They also never cut their hair because, according to their teachings, they will need it in heaven to wash men’s feet as an anointing.”
Most forms of entertainment are banned, and FLDS children are educated in home schools that have Warren Jeffs’s face on the textbooks, wrote ABC News. At the north end of the FLDS community, there’s a bunker-like network of tunnels drilled 100 yards into a mountainside, designed to protect the church in case of a government raid.
Lyle Jeffs and 10 other FLDS members were arrested in February after being accused of diverting $12 million in federal benefits, according to the Associated Press. The resulting vacuum of leadership could cause the church to implode, a former member said.
“If they are finally going to prosecute Lyle Jeffs and the leaders of the church, it will eventually bring the church down,” Wallace Jeffs, a half-brother of Warren Jeffs who was expelled from FLDS, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “This pretty much cuts the head off the snake.”
U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart granted Lyle Jeffs supervised release June 9, over the objections of federal prosecutors, who warned that safe houses and a stream of FLDS cash made Lyle Jeffs a flight risk.
Two weeks after the judge signed the release order, by means heavenly or earthly, Lyle Jeffs was gone.