B.C. commune under suspicion after arrest

CanWest News Service (Canada)/August 30, 2006
By Ethan Baron

Vancouver -- Fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs who has hundreds of followers in B.C. has been arrested on a Nevada highway with $50,000 in cash, 15 cellphones, three wigs and a police scanner.

Jeffs, 50, was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, charged in Utah with "rape as an accomplice" for allegedly arranging a teenage girl's marriage to a man, and charged in Arizona with child sexual assault.

A Nevada highway patrol trooper pulled over an SUV late Monday just north of Las Vegas for improperly displayed licence plates. In it were Jeffs, one of his wives, Naomi Jeffs, and a brother Isaac, both 32.

Jeffs is being held in federal custody in Las Vegas pending a court hearing on unlawful flight to avoid persecution.

On Tuesday, B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal says Jeffs' rival, Winston Blackmore of the polygamous Bountiful commune near Creston, is a subject of a probe into allegations of sex crimes against children.

"I would normally not name someone that's under investigation, except that Blackmore has been front and centre and pretty much challenging us to charge him," Oppal said.

Blackmore and Jeffs are rival leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which split from the mainstream Mormon church when the church banned polygamy more than a century ago.

In B.C., police have focused an investigation into alleged sex-crimes against children in Bountiful, where the community is divided between followers of Jeffs and Blackmore.

"There's a whole bunch of issues that we're interested in, mostly dealing with sexual assault and sexual abuse and sexual exploitation," Oppal said.

Also, if the investigation produces evidence that Bountiful residents arranged marriages between adults and children, charges could follow, Oppal said.

Debbie Palmer fled Bountiful in 1988 at age 34 after being married when she was 15 to a 55-year-old man with five other wives. In the wake of Jeffs' arrest, she fears for her four sisters and one niece whom she believes are in Jeffs' compounds in Colorado, Texas and South Dakota.

"He's got some really dangerous people who are bishops and enforcers in his compounds," Palmer said.

Palmer worries about a violent power struggle to replace Jeffs, or a mass suicide, end-of-days scenario.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.