Eleven members of a polygamist Mormon sect have been arrested in the US on suspicion of food stamp fraud and money laundering.
The suspects, including several senior members of the sect, were detained in the states of Utah and South Dakota.
Prosecutors allege that they diverted funds from Utah’s food aid programme.
In 2011 the sect’s leader Warren Jeffs received a life sentence for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides.
The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), an offshoot from the mainstream Mormon church, was handed the maximum sentence possible.
What is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?
- The Mormon church, officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was founded in the US by Joseph Smith in 1830 and now has 14m members
- Mormons believe their church is a restoration of the Church as conceived by Jesus and that the other Christian churches have gone astray
- The FLDS split from mainstream Mormonism after it banned polygamy in 1890 amid increasingly punitive laws
- Its members see polygamy as necessary for reaping maximum reward in the afterlife
- Former FLDS President Warren Jeffs was jailed in 2011 for sexually assaulting two children he took as brides
Police said the arrests were made in Hildale, Salt Lake City and Custer County.
Among the suspects was Warren Jeffs’ brother, Lyle, who is believed to be running the sect’s day-to-day operations.
“This indictment is not about religion. This indictment is about fraud,” US Attorney John Huber said.
“This indictment charges a sophisticated group of individuals operating in the Hildale-Colorado City community who conspired to defraud a programme intended to help low-income individuals and families purchase food.”
The FLDS is believed to have about up to 10,000 members.
It split from the mainstream Mormon church more than a century ago mainly because the church suspended the practice of polygamy.