Polygamist sect leader Jeffs faces new charge

Reuters/March 7, 2007

Salt Lake City -- A federal grand jury in Utah on Wednesday indicted U.S. polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs on an additional charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

Jeffs, arrested in August after two years on the run, is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, which split from the mainstream Mormon Church when it banned plural marriage more than a century ago.

Jeffs was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List for four months until his capture in a routine traffic stop outside of Las Vegas in August 2006. He is in jail awaiting trial on felony rape charges.

U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman said the new charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine if Jeffs is convicted.

"If he were not prosecuted federally, his acts in fleeing from the state to avoid prosecution would go unpunished. This is criminal conduct that I believe warrants prosecution," Tolman told a news conference.

Jeffs, 51, already faces two charges of rape as an accomplice for arranging a marriage between a minor girl and a 19-year-old man. That trial is set to begin April 23 in state court.

Lawyers for Jeffs have filed a motion to have his trial moved from St. George, Utah, to Salt Lake County, some 300 miles to the north. Defense attorneys argue that intense publicity surrounding the case would make it difficult for him to get a fair trial in St. George.

Jeffs is considered a prophet among the estimated 10,000 followers of the FLDS, which was based near St. George in the vicinity of southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Members of the group also live in Texas, Colorado, South Dakota and British Columbia.

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