- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 4, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Latest on Utah polygamists accused of foot stamp fraud (all times local):

12:05 p.m.

A polygamous sect leader says not sharing goods purchased with food stamps would prohibit him and others from living their religion and being prepared for heaven.

Seth Jeffs took the stand Tuesday as he and 10 other suspects accused of food stamp fraud try to persuade a judge they were following religious tenets of communal living, not breaking the law.

He says they believe everything on earth belongs to God, which is why members must donate everything they own to a community storehouse. The group’s leaders decide how best to redistribute the goods. The “law of consecration” is based on early Mormon beliefs from the 1800s.

Seth Jeffs runs the group’s South Dakota compound and is a brother of the group’s imprisoned leader, Warren Jeffs. Seth Jeffs wore a jail jumpsuit with his hands and feet in cuffs. He is one of two defendants who is behind bars as the case plays out.

Prosecutors haven’t yet questioned Seth Jeffs in cross-examination. They argue that he and the defendants knowingly broke the law.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart is weighing whether food stamp rules burden the suspects’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

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11 a.m.

An early Mormon history expert says members of a polygamous sect accused of food stamp fraud hold beliefs strikingly similar to early Mormons in the 1800s.

Lyndon Watson Cook testified Tuesday as 11 suspects in the case try to persuade a judge they had a religious right to share products bought with food stamps with the rest of the group. Defense attorneys say they were following religious tenets of communal living, not breaking the law.

Cook says early Mormons would have worried about their eternal salvation if they didn’t follow the communal living guidelines.

Prosecutors pointed out that Cook isn’t an expert on the sect, and he acknowledged his opinion is based on defendants’ affidavits.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart is weighing whether food stamp rules burden the suspects’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

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8 a.m.

Polygamous sect members accused of participating in a multimillion food stamp fraud scheme will try to persuade a judge Tuesday they were following a religiously rooted tenet that calls for communal type living.

Federal prosecutors counter that the defendants knowingly broke the law by not only donating food to a storehouse but diverting funds to front companies and to pay for a tractor, truck and other items. They say sect leaders lived lavishly while low-ranking followers suffered.

The suspects aren’t required to testify at the hearing, but are supposed to be in the courtroom in Salt Lake City. They have pleaded not guilty to food stamp fraud and money laundering.

Defense attorneys want U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart to throw out at least part of the case based on the argument their client’s actions were constitutionally protected.

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