Authorities: Jeffs Thought He Could Run Forever

Associated Press/August 29, 2006

Salt Lake City -- He had at least 40 wives, scores of children, thousands of followers and control over millions of dollars from a church trust.

He was invincible, protected by God from capture, fugitive polygamous leader Warren Steed Jeffs told his most loyal lieutenants, according to investigators.

Yet Jeffs, who was on the FBI's Most Wanted List for charges of arranging marriages between underage girls and older men, was arrested during a traffic stop just outside Las Vegas late Monday without incident.

His bodyguards had promised a gun fight and said they would die for him, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Tuesday.

But Jeffs, 50, wasn't with any bodyguards and had no weapons. He was a passenger with one of his wives, Naomi Jeffs, in a 2007 red Cadillac Escalade driven by his most loyal brother, Isaac Steed Jeffs, both 32. Both were released after Jeffs' arrest.

They were stopped by a Nevada Highway patrol trooper who couldn't make out the vehicle's temporary Colorado paper license tag on Interstate 15. That trooper thought he recognized Jeffs inside the vehicle.

While Jeffs initially offered an alias, he revealed his actual name to an FBI agent who was called to the scene, said John E. Lewis, special agent in charge of the FBI Phoenix division.

Jeffs complained he was being prosecuted for his religious beliefs, but didn't respond to questions about how he spent his year on the run, Lewis said.

Jeffs is presumed to have traveled widely, favoring SUVs like the Escalade with tinted windows. He was captured Monday with $54,000 in cash, 15 cell phones, four portable radios, three wigs, sunglasses, four laptops, a GPS device, a police scanner and gift cards totaling $10,000, Lewis said.

He had safe houses in several states and messengers to carry his orders to the twin polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where he ruled by fiat over the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since the death of his father in 2002.

"Now that he's in custody, he's away from those folks. I think you're going to see a lot of changes within the FLDS community as far as their fear of him, their loyalty to him," said Shurtleff, whose office has been trying for years to dismantle Jeffs' empire, focusing on crimes against women and children.

"We're hoping that loyalty that will start to crumble, and that other witnesses will come forward with (information about) other potential crimes," Shurtleff said.

Church dissidents say that underage marriages – some involving girls as young as 13 – escalated into the hundreds under his leadership, and that he broke apart families by casting out married men and reassigning their women and children to others.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said Jeffs' arrest marked the end of his rule over an estimated 10,000 followers. "Many of them have lived in fear of this man, this tyrant," he said.

Jeffs was being held Tuesday in Nevada's Clark County jail, awaiting a court appearance Thursday that could lead to his extradition to Arizona or Utah on charges of arranging marriages between underage girls and older men.

Utah's case is more serious, adding two counts of rape by accomplice, with each count punishable by up to life in prison.

Arizona filed charges first, but Utah says it has a stronger case and wants to try him first. It was uncertain Tuesday how that conflict would be resolved.

The FLDS Church split from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when the Mormons disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago. Warren Jeffs took over the renegade sect after the death of his 98-year-old father, Rulon Jeffs, who was said to have had 65 children by several women. Warren Jeffs took nearly all his father's widows as his own wives.

Jeffs has been called a dangerous extremist by those familiar with his church. Church dissidents said that while the sect has long practiced the custom of arranged marriages, young girls were rarely married off until Warren Jeffs came to power.

People expelled from the community said young men were sent away to avoid competition for brides. Older men were cast out for alleged disobedience, and their wives and children were reassigned by Jeffs to new husbands and fathers, the former members said.

"If this will bring an end to that, that will be a good thing," Ward Jeffs, an estranged half-brother of Warren, said Tuesday. "We're excited for the people down there, but we're very concerned about who might step up and take the leadership role."

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