Utah polygamist church leaders, members charged with fraud, money laundering

John Clifton Wayman (left) and Lyle Steed Jeffs (right) appeared in Federal Court on Feb. 24, 2016.(Davis County Jail)

Eleven leaders and members of a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church, including two brothers of Utah polygamist and convicted felon Warren Jeffs, were charged on Tuesday with conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and money laundering.

Winfred Barlow (left), Kristal Dutson (centre) and Ruth Barlow (right) all appeared in St. George federal court on Feb. 24, 2016 on charges of fraud and money laundering.(Washington County Sheriff)

The indictment was sealed before the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City against the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS Church) whose church-owned businesses were raided, according to Reuters.

The church, a breakaway group of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, preaches polygamy.

Each of those indicted was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

The church leaders are accused of diverting SNAP proceeds from authorised beneficiaries to feed broader church community.

Charged in the indictment are Lyle Steed Jeffs, 56, and Seth Steed Jeffs, 42, brothers of Warren, who is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting two young girls in Texas.

Others who were indicted are John Clifton Wayman, 56; Kimball Dee Barlow, 51; Winford Johnson Barlow, 50; Rulon Mormon Barlow, 45; Ruth Peine Barlow, 41; Preston Yates Barlow, 41, Nephi Steed Allred; Hyrum Bygnal Dutson, 55; and Kristal Meldrum Dutson, 55.

"This indictment is not about religion. This indictment is about fraud," said U.S. Attorney John Huber.

Prosecutors charged that church leaders directed members starting in 2011 to funnel food bought with SNAP funds into an FLDS Storehouse to feed the broader church community.

Church leaders withdrew cash from food stamp cards they got from members and used the money to pay bills.

Winford Barlow spent $30,236 for a 2012 Ford F-350 pickup truck while Kimball Barlow signed a check for $16,978 in paper products.

Six of the 11 people charged have been arrested so far. They appeared in courts on Wednesday in Utah and South Dakota. If convicted, they face a maximum of 25 years in prison.