On October 4, 2016, I attended another hearing at the Federal Courthouse in the SNAP fraud case. Jeffery Cohen took the stand, a USDA official who is involved in administering the SNAP program. After watching him struggle to give a clear answer on whether or not there are rules against sharing your SNAP benefits I had to go look it up for myself. Having been a recipient of SNAP benefits while a member of the FLDS, it had been very clear to me that this type of activity was prohibited, but I wanted to be sure.
It wasn’t difficult information to find. I had easy access to all of it right on the internet. The information I am providing is for Arizona, but with this being a Federal program I imagine the rules, etc., are similar in Utah as well. I downloaded the forms and looked them over and the rules were crystal clear. I know that every person over 18 who has applied for food stamps was required to sign the application under penalty of perjury.
I called Rob Lund on the phone just to be sure that he was aware of this information, as I felt it was critical to the case. He asked me to email the forms to him so he could be sure they had everything. Which I did. Yet, when the judge made his decision on that hearing, and stated that he wouldn’t instruct the jury that it was illegal to transfer or share SNAP benefits, Mr. Lund ran scared and put together some plea deals that amounted to a slap on the wrist and a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. My concern is that he was more interested in having convictions on his resume than he was in seeing justice served.
I honestly don’t see why the actual application couldn’t have just been submitted as evidence of what participants in the program had signed and agreed to.
The application (Form FA-001 can be found here. But I have typed off the parts that are relevant to this case. I added underlining for emphasis, and my comments are within brackets() and italic:
An application may be completed by you or anyone you choose who knows or can get the information needed to complete the application for you and your household members. You can use this application to apply for anyone in your household, even if they already have benefits, including health insurance.
Your household includes:
- Your spouse, if married.
- Your children under age 22 who live with you.
- Your partner who lives with you (but only if you have a child together who needs health insurance or Cash Assistance).
- People who you claim on your tax return, even if they do not live with you.
- Relatives in your care who are under the age of 19 and live with you.
- People who you live with that purchase and prepare food with you.
(Starting with this section, which very clearly lays out what constitutes a “household,” I will remind you of Kathryn Nester’s comments about how difficult it would be to determine who is eligible because “there are ‘single’ mothers with children, then there are some with good jobs in the same house.” If they are all in the same household, all of their assets should be reported as a whole. This is a ploy that the FLDS use all of the time to get the maximum benefits from the government, whether deserved or not. They can have a couple of “single mothers” who stay home and have no job apply for the maximum benefits, and at the same time they have other family members who bring in a lot of money. If they all live together, and prepare food together, they are a household and need to report all resources as such. But they don’t, it’s the best of both worlds.
Also, it has been made very clear that the FLDS have been sending parents away on “repentance missions” where they leave their children behind. These children are then reassigned to different homes. How many parents have reflected those changes on their SNAP applications?)
For everyone in your household, you may need:
- Birth certificates.
- Social Security numbers.
- Employer and income information for everyone in your household.
- Resources (e.g., bank account, cash, property).
- Information for any current health insurance.
- Information about any job-related health insurance available to members of your household.
- Other information needed to complete your application.
(Once again, this section informs the applicants of the requirement to report all income and resources for the household. This is simply not being done.)
What is expected of me?
- You must provide DES and/or AHCCCS with the needed information to correctly determine your eligibility and authorize DES and/or AHCCCS to investigate and contact any sources necessary to confirm the accuracy of the information for your eligibility.
- If you are approved for benefits, you will get a letter telling you what changes you must report. You MUST report your changes timely.
(Very often information is withheld. The benefits being awarded do not accurately reflect the true need of the beneficiaries. One of the ways the FLDS are able to accomplish this is that, almost exclusively, the sources that would be contacted are also owned/operated by FLDS faithful. They are all in on the scheme and say what’s necessary to assist applicants in getting the maximum benefits. ie: employers will already know what income numbers to report so that the information matches, even if it isn’t accurate.)
What are the Rules and Penalties?
If you, your representative, or any household member hides information or gives false information on purpose to get or continue to get Nutrition Assistance and/or Cash Assistance benefits that you are not entitled to, that person will be subject to:
- Criminal Prosecution
- Other penalties provided for by state and federal laws
If you get Nutrition Assistance and/or Cash Assistance, you must follow the rules below:
- Do not do anything dishonest to get benefits that you are not supposed to get.
- Do not buy, sell, trade, exchange or otherwise transfer your or someone else’s Nutrition Assistance benefits of EBT card.
- Do not buy containers with deposits for the purpose of discarding the product and returning the containers to get cash refund deposits.
- Do not sell products bought with Nutrition Assistance benefits to exchange them for cash or items other than eligible food.
- Do not buy products originally bought with Nutrition Assistance benefits to exchange those products for cash or items other than eligible food.
- Do not steal Nutrition Assistance or Cash Assistance benefits.
- Do not use your Nutrition Assistance benefits to buy non-food items such as alcohol and tobacco.
- Do not alter your EBT card.
- Do not use someone else’s EBT card unless you are an authorized user approved by DES.
(I already addressed some of the issues with dishonesty above.
The second bullet point seems pretty clear, and the participants clearly broke the rules.
On the fourth and fifth one I would have to wonder if being told that you are required to donate your benefits or go to hell qualifies for trading your benefits for something other than eligible food, like, perhaps, salvation?
Number six, “do not steal” benefits? If anyone used the benefits that weren’t specifically assigned to them that would qualify as stealing in my opinion.
Nutrition Assistance benefits were used, after being laundered, to purchase a tractor, paper products and other items – certainly not eligible food.
John Wayman had other people’s EBT cards in his possession that he handed out to others to use for people who were not beneficiaries. Including his own family, when, by his own lawyers admission, he has plenty of money and resources at his disposal.)
If you knowingly break the rules and get Nutrition Assistance and/or Cash Assistance benefits, we will disqualify you from getting benefits for:
- 12 months for the first violation
- 24 months for the second violation
- Permanently for the third violation
You or a household member will not be eligible to get Nutrition Assistance and/or Cash Assistance benefits if you or the household member:
- Is a fleeing felon or probation/parole violator
- Has been convicted of using or getting Nutrition Assistance benefits in a transaction involving the sale of firearms, ammunition, or explosives. This person can never get Nutrition Assistance benefits again.
- Has been found guilty of using or getting Nutrition Assistance benefits in a transaction involving the sale of a controlled substance. This person is not eligible to get Nutrition Assistance benefits for 2 years for the first violation and permanently for the second violation.
- Has committed and was convicted of a federal or state felony on or after August 23, 1996 for the possession or distribution of a controlled substance.
- Has been found by a court of law to have given false identification or residence information in order to get benefits in more than one case. This person is not eligible to get benefits for 10 years.
- Refuses to sign and comply with the Personal Responsibility Agreement (PRA). We give you the PRA during the interview process.
- Is an adult recipient (18 years or older) of Cash Assistance when any of the following apply:
- The recipient does not return the completed Illegal Drug Use Statement. We send the Illegal Drug Use Statement by U.S. Mail after Cash Assistance has been approved.
- The recipient fails to take a required drug test.
- The recipient fails the drug test.
You must pay DES back for any Nutrition Assistance and/or Cash Assistance benefits you received for which your household was not eligible. You can make a repayment agreement. If you do not keep your repayment agreement, we may reduce your Nutrition Assistance and/or Cash Assistance benefits, take your income tax refunds, or take other legal action, including taking the amounts from your earnings.
The following additional penalties apply to the Nutrition Assistance Program:
- An additional disqualification, of up to 18 months, may be ordered by a court.
- Any participant or household member who makes false statements or hides information can be fined up to $250,000.00, imprisoned for up to 20 years, or both.
- You and/or your household members may be subject to further prosecution under federal laws.
Other Income: Tell us about other income everyone receives. You may need to provide proof of income.
(Again, this is something that is blatantly not followed. Income is hidden in every way possible.)
Questions for applicants:
Does anyone you are applying for have a legal guardian?
(Though not technically applicable, because the documents that the members sign to hand their children over aren’t legally binding, those who sign them believe that they are. These documents and changes of household are not reported.)
Declarations and Statement of Truth
By signing this application:
- I agree I have read and understand the penalties on page G included with the application. I have read and understand my rights and responsibilities, and provided Social Security numbers for each applicant that has a Social Security number.
- I agree and have read and understand the assignment of rights to other benefits for Medical Care above.
- I agree and have read and understand the assignment of support rights for Cash Assistance above.
- I agree that certain Nutrition Assistance and/or Cash Assistance household members will cooperate with the work programs, which includes looking for work and accepting training and/or a job. If anyone does not, look for work, attend training, or accept a job, my benefits may be reduced or stopped.
- I agree to cooperate with Arizona or Federal personnel in the completion of a quality control review on my eligibility for benefits.
- In the event DES or its agents engage in child support enforcement activities involving me, I understand the Assistant Attorneys General and Deputy County Attorneys handling the cases represent DES, and not me or my children.
- If my child support case goes to court, I understand certain personal information contained in this application or my DES records may be released to the court and other parties to the case and becomes a public record document.
- I also hereby agree to accept service of process by first class mail with regard to my paternity or child support proceeding initiated by DES and its agents.
- I understand that my records will be kept confidential and will only be released for purposes authorized by federal and state law.
- I understand that I may be required to pay a premium if enrolled in the KidsCare or Freedom to Work program.
I swear under penalty of perjury that the statements and documents provided about myself and persons in my home, that relates to my eligibility for benefits, is true and correct to the best of my knowledge, and that I have not withheld any information. I swear under penalty of perjury that any photocopied information I have provided are the same as the original documents.
Every member of a household, above 18 years of age, is required to have their picture and their fingerprints taken to be added to a database. Each member is required to sign, under penalty of perjury, that the information provided is correct. While on assistance your life is an open book of reporting and accountability to the government. Though many of those who are on assistance do not follow these rules. I witnessed it. But the real issue here is that while those who apply are supposedly held accountable to the government, with penalties held over them for noncompliance, the benefits are being distributed to those who have no responsibility to account or report. As well as benefiting those have immense resources and incomes.
If the FLDS want to claim a religious right to live in a communal fashion and thus share the benefits the government offers to the poor, they would conceivably need to apply as a community to ensure the integrity of the program. I have witnessed a very real and calculated effort to extort the greatest amount of benefits through deliberate impoverishment of certain individuals while shifting the wealth to the great enrichment of a few others. Then the impoverished ones apply for benefits. Many times vehicles are owned by companies or rich individuals – usually young men who old enough to be off their parents benefits.
If the collective wealth of the community – including businesses, real property, bank accounts, equipment and vehicles were honestly reported along with the full membership of the communities – including where each member is actually residing, not only which home and an accurate accounting of households, but which STATE – I have little doubt that they would not qualify for assistance. The wealth is there, it is just very unequally spread among the community. Many FLDS business employ underage workers, along with paying less than industry standard wages, which serves two purposes: more people qualify for maximum government benefits, and the money stays within the control of the business owners, who in turn use it to provide for the leaders.
For example: When Western Precision moved from the Salt Lake Valley to Hildale in 2001, the people were directed by Rulon Jeffs to sell their homes and relocate there also. Wendell Nielsen was the owner, and everyone received a mandatory 50% cut in pay to go with the move. This caused people who had been able to provide for their families without assistance to have to turn to welfare, while huge amounts of money could be funneled upwards to the leaders.
Not to mention that Utah and Arizona tax payers are, or have been in the past, paying to subsidize FLDS communities around the nation. There was those who had been living at the YFZ Ranch in Texas who claimed to be unemployed, while giving all their time and labor to the church as a consecration, and were still drawing on Assistance benefits in Arizona. They would come “home” occasionally when they were in need of government paid for medical care, or if they were required to show up for a renewal interview for their benefits. The change of address, even though it lasted for years, was never made.
That brings me to the next point. I sat in hearings and listened to the defense team, as well as Seth Jeffs’ own testimony, making the claim that their religious belief is so fervent that they felt it would jeopardize their salvation to not consecrate everything – even if it meant committing fraud. According to their own scripture these men are failing in the commandment of truly living the United Order. It’s purpose is to make all men equal in earthly things. But these same men live opulent lifestyles while banishing other members to poverty and starvation. Their fervor for following “god’s will” only goes so far. Exactly as far as it personally enriches them as the leaders. They are usually very careful to be sure that any crimes are actually committed by others, keeping themselves free from prosecution if the crimes are discovered.
Doctrine and Covenants 78:3-6
3. For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion –
4. For a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven.
5. That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
6. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;
Mr. Lund told me, in a phone call conversation after John Wayman accepted the plea deal, that he believed this would act as a deterrent. I wholeheartedly disagree. After all, Seth’s first felony conviction and time spent in jail (for aiding and abetting a federal fugitive, Warren Jeffs) hadn’t acted as a deterrent, why does he think a second one will? No matter which way you look at it, laws have been broken, the most vulnerable have been exploited and taken advantage of, and justice certainly has not been served. The victims deserve the protection of their government and the enforcement of law.