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FBI: Polygamous Church Leader Escaped Custody Using Slippery Substance

Lyle Jeffs, who reportedly was running the secretive polygamous FLDS church, may have used olive oil to flee house arrest over the weekend.

Last updated on July 13, 2016, at 11:29 a.m. ET

Posted on June 20, 2016, at 10:30 p.m. ET

Lyle Jeffs appears in police booking photos provided by the FBI.
FBI / Via fbi.gov

Lyle Jeffs appears in police booking photos provided by the FBI.

The Salt Lake City FBI said Tuesday that a top leader of the polygamous FLDS church, who went missing in June, may have used olive oil to flee house arrest.

Lyle Jeffs, the younger brother of Warren Jeffs (who himself fled police before being convicted of sex crimes) reportedly "used a substance which may have been olive oil to lubricate the GPS tracking band and slip it off his ankle," Salt Lake City FBI spokesperson Sandra Yi Barker confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

Barker added in a statement that the FBI "would also like to make the public aware that Jeffs has possible hideout locations in the U.S. and out of the country, including Canada and Mexico, where there are known FLDS communities."

He also had access to several different modes of transportation, from planes to boats, as well as to weapons and armed bodyguards.

Jeffs, who was under house arrest in Utah, fled from authorities sometime between June 18 and 19. Melodie Rydalch, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah, told BuzzFeed News that authorities learned Jeffs had absconded on June 19, prompting the FBI to issue an arrest warrant.

Barnhart said Tuesday that authorities last checked on Jeffs on June 18th, and that the bracelet was "still intact where it was supposed to be," according to Fox 13. "The evening hours, though, that changed. Attempts were made to contact him to no avail. The next day he was found to be missing."

Jeffs is a bishop in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church that still practices what it calls "plural marriage" — a doctrine that allows a man to marry multiple women. The mainstream Mormon church, officially called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, disavowed the practice in 1890.

The 56-year-old was arrested in February and had been confined to house arrest while awaiting trial in a massive food stamp case. Federal prosecutors allege that he and 10 other people diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds to FLDS-controlled businesses. The Justice Department described the group's crimes as "especially egregious" and “nothing less than theft."

He later asked a judge to free him pending trial, but prosecutors countered that he was a flight risk and had married multiple underage girls. The judge ultimately sided with Jeffs and let him go earlier this month.

At the time, Brower — who has worked in and written about the Short Creek area for years — posted that he was "aghast" and predicted that "Lyle will never go back to jail or prison."

News of Jeffs disappearance first spread on Monday when author and private investigator Sam Brower posted about it on Facebook.

Helaman Barlow, a former police chief in Short Creek, the FLDS-dominated community on the Utah-Arizona border, also said on Facebook he had heard that Jeffs was on the lam.

Andrew Chatwin, a Short Creek resident and former member of the FLDS church, told BuzzFeed News that when word of Lyle's escape got out Monday, the community lit up with phone calls as people spread the word to keep an eye out.

"We did expect him to run," Chatwin added.

"I feel Lyle will never face justice," Brower wrote. He did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment Monda

Lyle Jeffs, center, leaves the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21, 2015.
Rick Bowmer / AP

Lyle Jeffs, center, leaves the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21, 2015.

Lyle is the younger brother of Warren Jeffs, who himself spent more than a year on the run after being charged with sex crimes. Warren Jeffs was eventually added to the FBI's Most Wanted list before being captured in 2006.

In 2011, Warren Jeffs was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls and sentenced to life in prison. Though people in the secretive Short Creek community reportedly continued to take orders from him, Lyle assumed day-to-day control of the FLDS church.

Now that Lyle is on the run, he will likely rely on what is rumored to be a sprawling FLDS support network. In addition to allegedly controlling the local police and municipal government in Short Creek, the church also maintains a compound in Pringle, South Dakota. And Chatwin said there is talk of other properties in Mexico.

Chatwin also said that he believes Jeffs will continue to control the church while running from the authorities.

"We’re really frustrated," Chatwin said. "He’s still going to hurt a lot of people."

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