Life goes on in FLDS enclaves

Jeffs' mounting legal troubles may yet spread to others

Deseret Morning News/September 2, 2006
By Ben Winslow

Hildale, Washington County -- In the polygamous border towns along the Utah-Arizona border, residents appear to be carrying on with their lives even as the man some consider to be a prophet sits in a Nevada jail cell, facing charges in two states.

And Jeffs' mounting legal troubles may yet spread to others.

The FBI has begun poring over ledgers seized from the car in which polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was a passenger when it was stopped outside of Las Vegas this week. Investigators want to know where the Fundamentalist LDS Church leader has been for the past several years - and who has been hiding him as he evaded lawmen.

Here in Hildale and across the border in Colorado City, Ariz., men were seen Friday out in their yards working on vehicles.

Women were tending to gardens. Children were seen playing. The local mercantile was busy again, as women and children scurried in empty-handed and out with groceries.

FLDS people continue to maintain silence with the outside world - especially about Warren Jeffs.

"I just want to be left alone," said one Colorado City man, politely declining to speak to a Deseret Morning News reporter.

Whether that is possible for the man and for his community at large remains to be seen.

Inside the Cadillac Escalade in which Jeffs was stopped outside Las Vegas, the FBI found letters addressed to "the prophet." "There were a lot of letters containing money," said Special Agent Deborah McCarley from the FBI's office in Phoenix.

"As far as where he's been and who he's been in contact with, our investigation is still open," McCarley said.

In Utah, court papers filed in Washington County by prosecutors said that FBI agents seized lists of people who had been providing Jeffs with money and shelter while he has been on the run and on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

An investigator who has been looking into Jeffs and the FLDS Church wants to take a look at those papers.

"We'll have to wait and see what comes to us as far as the evidence they found in the vehicle," Gary Engels, an investigator for the Mohave County, Ariz., Attorney's Office, said Friday.

Engels met briefly with Jeffs after the FLDS leader waived extradition in a Las Vegas court Thursday, paving the way for his return to Utah.

"He was trying to do his 'prophet thing' with me," Engels said.

Jeffs will be coming back to Utah to face charges of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He is accused of forcing a teenage girl into a polygamous marriage with an older man. He is facing similar charges in Mohave County.

More legal problems

Federal authorities in Utah and Arizona still have warrants active against Jeffs for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Authorities in both states continue to investigate Jeffs and would not rule out more charges.

Six men believed to be FLDS members who were jailed for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in Phoenix have been released. The grand jury, whose proceedings are secret, may have been investigating the whereabouts of Jeffs. Now that he is in custody, the testimonies of the six FLDS members, who included a Colorado City police officer and one of Jeffs' brothers, apparently were no longer needed.

However, federal prosecutors would not say if the grand jury has finished looking into Jeffs or the FLDS Church.

"Our investigations are ongoing," said Wyn Hornbuckle, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona.

Jeffs is also facing several multimillion-dollar civil lawsuits accusing him of sexually abusing children, forcing girls into marriage against their will and ousting teenagers from Hildale and Colorado City.

A private investigator who has hounded Jeffs for years is anticipating serving him with a number of lawsuits when he arrives in Utah.

"I've always thought there'd be some gratification by getting him served," Sam Brower told the Deseret Morning News. "But he looks so pitiful, I don't know if I'd get any joy in doing it."

Brower is working for lawyers who have filed the lawsuits against Jeffs, the FLDS Church and its financial arm, the United Effort Plan Trust.

In 2005, a Utah judge took control of the UEP Trust and placed a special fiduciary in charge. The UEP controls homes, businesses and property in Hildale and Colorado City and some of the church's other enclaves. It has assets estimated at more than $110 million.

The state took control of the UEP amid allegations that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders had been personally benefiting from the trust. Coincidentally, a lawyer for the fiduciary traveled this week to Denver to take a look at documents the FBI seized when they arrested Warren Jeffs' brother Seth in October 2005.

"Some records we are very interested in," Jeffrey L. Shields told the Deseret Morning News on Friday.

Shields wanted to see if any documents involved property or money belonging to the UEP that Jeffs may have taken. He declined to say what he looked at, indicating the FBI had him sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Seth Jeffs pleaded guilty to harboring a fugitive by helping keep his brother on the run from the law. When he was arrested in Pueblo, Colo., last year, police found $142,000 in cash, cell phones, pre-paid cards, letters addressed to "the prophet" and even a change jar with a label that read "Pennies for the Prophet."

Similar items were found in the Escalade Warren Jeffs was arrested in earlier this week.

Thursday, lawyers for the fiduciary submitted a proposal for a reformed trust to a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court. Judge Denise P. Lindberg has indicated that she is willing to sign it.

"We think it can be good for the people and good for the community," Shields said. "Religious belief is not going to be a factor in the trust."

Negotiations are under way to settle some of the civil lawsuits against the trust.

Utah cell waiting

When Warren Jeffs arrives in St. George, the FLDS leader will be sent to the Purgatory Jail, the facility built on Hurricane's Purgatory Flats. Washington County authorities refuse to say when they will have Jeffs transported from Las Vegas.

Instead, Jeffs likely will be quietly booked into jail. Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith told the Deseret Morning News he wants to prevent some of Jeffs' more fanatical followers from trying to interfere.

"When you're dealing with religious extremism, there's no telling how people are going to act and react," Smith said Friday.

Jeffs will be kept segregated from other prisoners within the jail, but he will be allowed to make phone calls.

Ex-FLDS members have said Jeffs will still be in charge of the religious congregation, even if he is behind bars. Smith said Jeffs' phone conversations will be monitored.

Observers of the FLDS Church's sprawling ranch in Eldorado, Texas, say Jeffs' influence is still being seen there.

"Warren can probably manage the FLDS better now that he is in jail than (he could as) a fugitive. Many mafia dons have done so successfully in the past," Texas pilot JD Doyle said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News. Doyle has previously provided photos to the newspaper of the construction under way on the YFZ Ranch.

YFZ stands for "Yearning for Zion," after a song Jeffs wrote.

"May change a few plans, but seems like Warren's orders are still being carried out," he wrote. "Must understand that the people here are Warren's absolute loyalist followers. They will obey him regardless of where he is."

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