Younger brother gets probation for aiding fugitive FLDS prophet

Salt Lake Tribune/July 14, 2006
By Keith Coffman with Brooke Adams

Denver -- The younger brother of fugitive prophet Warren S. Jeffs spoke for the first time at his sentencing Friday, saying he regrets providing assistance and is trying to distance himself from the turmoil surrounding the polygamous sect.

During the hearing, Seth Steed Jeffs said that includes plans to live in Colorado rather than Hildale.

"I've had a lot of time to think about what I did. I know what I did was wrong while I was doing it," he said. "I've done all I can to remove myself from this situation. I never want to find myself in a courtroom again. I just want to get on with my life." U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn placed Jeffs on three years probation and ordered him to pay a $2,500 fine for helping the polygamous sect leader elude a nationwide dragnet.

In May, Jeffs pleaded guilty to a one-count indictment that accused him of acting to "knowingly harbor and conceal" his older sibling, who is wanted in Utah and Arizona on sex crime charges for arranging marriages between underage girls and older men.

Warren Jeffs, 50, is president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect centered in the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. He has not been seen publicly since early 2005.

Jeffs, 33, looked more relaxed than he had in previous court appearances, smiling and chatting with his attorney. As he left the courtroom, Jeffs refused to comment on whether he had already moved out of Hildale.

However, Daniel Smith, his defense attorney, confirmed he is now living in Colorado.

In court, Smith said he had visited Hildale and Colorado City and called it "an environment of paranoia" where the atmosphere is "poisonous," and residents no longer hold church services or community events because of on-going scrutiny by the FBI and local law enforcement.

Smith also said Jeffs is "not rejecting his faith. It's just that he's no longer there and not being asked to do things for the church." He may, however, be asked to do more for the government.

As Jeffs left the courtroom, an FBI officer handed him a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in Phoenix, Smith said. Smith said he did not look at the subpoena and did not know the date Jeffs was asked to appear.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Brimmer had argued Jeffs should be sentenced to three months in a federal prison because of the "extremely serious" assistance he provided to his brother. Brimmer also said he wasn't convinced that Jeffs would abandon his FLDS lifestyle.

In a presentence report, Brimmer said that Jeffs described his marital situation as "living my religion." Outside court, Smith said Jeffs has six children, one legal wife and one "plural" wife in a religious marriage, according to the Associated Press. "How is it any different from (someone) being legally married and having a mistress that he supports?" Smith asked. this graf ONLY is from the AP But Brimmer told the judge he was concerned Jeffs would again violate the law if he continued to follow the FLDS faith.

A prison term would be a message "that needs to be sent loud and clear," said Brimmer, who declined to elaborate on the presentence report after the hearing.

But Blackburn said he found Jeffs "credibly contrite," adding, "I must not and will not visit the sins of your fugitive brother on you." Jeffs could have faced a maximum five-year sentence and $250,000 in fines for harboring a federal fugitive, but because he admitted his guilt and had no criminal record, federal sentencing guidelines reduced his possible penalties to anywhere from probation to a six- month prison term.

Jeffs' probation is supervised, which generally requires monthly check-ins with officers.

Spokesman Jeff Dorschner said the U.S. Attorney's office in Colorado considered the case a "win" because "it led to a number of things that will aid in the investigation of Warren Jeffs." He declined to elaborate.

A Mohave County, Ariz., grand jury indicted Warren Jeffs in June 2005 on charges of sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy for allegedly forcing a 16-year-old girl to wed Randolph Barlow, an already-married 28-year-old man. In April, prosecutors in Washington County, Utah, charged Warren Jeffs as an accomplice in the first- degree rape of another teenage girl, a charge that carries a potential life sentence.

Federal authorities also have charged Warren Jeffs with two counts of unlawful flight related to the Arizona charges, and the FBI has placed him on its "Most Wanted" fugitives list. A $100,000 reward has been posted for his capture and conviction.

Jeffs was arrested last fall in southern Colorado after police stopped an SUV he was riding in on suspicion of drunken driving. A search of the vehicle uncovered $142,000 in cash, $7,000 worth of untraceable prepaid debit and phone cards and correspondence addressed to his brother.

Jeffs told FBI agents he was a "messenger" for the FLDS faith and was delivering the cash and other items to a church bishop in Eldorado, Texas, where the sect has a sprawling compound under construction. He also said that no one from the estimated 8,000- member church would ever help authorities locate their reclusive leader.

"Prophets are often persecuted," Jeffs said, according to an affidavit. "It would be stupid to tell anyone where he is because he would get caught." Although Jeffs refused to disclose his brother's whereabouts, authorities in Arizona and Utah are putting pressure on the FLDS in both civil and criminal courts. Last week an Arizona jury convicted FLDS member Kelly Fischer, 39, on two sex crime charges related to his polygamous marriage to a 16-year-old girl. Seven other men are awaiting trial on similar counts.

Additionally, Utah authorities are using the civil courts to dismantle the church's multi-million dollar property trust.

Attorneys for Bruce R. Wisan, the court-appointed fiduciary overseeing that trust, have asked Blackburn to allow them to review a computer and other materials seized in the traffic stop.

Shem Fischer, an ex-FLDS member who recently won an employment discrimination judgment against Warren Jeffs, the FLDS church and FLDS-affiliated business, has filed a claim in the Colorado court seeking to collect the seized money.

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