Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs arrested in Las Vegas
Updated: 10:40 AM- LAS VEGAS -- The fugitive leader of a polygamist sect has been captured in southern Nevada, the FBI said Tuesday.
Warren Steed Jeffs, 50, was taken into custody after he and two other people were pulled over late Monday by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper on Interstate 15 just north of Las Vegas, FBI spokesman David Staretz said.
The other two people in the vehicle were identified as one of Warren Jeffs' wives, Naomi Jeffs, and a brother, Isaac Steed Jeffs, both 32, Staretz said. They were being interviewed Tuesday morning by the FBI in Las Vegas, but were not arrested.
Items in the vehicle when Jeffs was captured included: 27 stacks of $100 bills, worth $2,500 each; 14 cellular phones; a radar detector, two Global Positioning System units; two female wigs, one blonde and one brunette; several knives; several CDs; three watches; three Ipods; multiple credit cards; seven sets of keys; a photograph of Jeffs and his father; a Bible and a Book of Mormon.
The items were seen on pool video footage created with official permission.
Jeffs was being held in federal custody in Las Vegas pending a court hearing on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, Staretz said. It was not immediately clear if Jeffs would face extradition to Arizona or Utah.
The traffic stop came about 9 p.m., after the NHP trooper noticed a maroon Cadillac Escalade on the freeway with temporary license tags, Staretz said.
Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was indicted in June 2005 on an Arizona charge of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a married man, and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
He is also charged in Utah with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice, for allegedly arranging the marriage of a teenage girl to an older man in Nevada.
Las Vegas has become a new hub for the polygamous sect and the group recently moved Western Precision, one of the biggest FLDS businesses, there.
Several residents of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the twin communities where the FLDS is headquartered, said the news of the arrest spread quickly.
"I'm grateful that they got him and there was no bloodshed," Marvin Wyler, a former FLDS member, said. He added that the community was quiet on Tuesday morning.
Other former members said Isaac serves as Warren's secretary.
"It's not surprising to find those two together because Isaac had been an extention of his arm for a long time," said Ezra Draper, of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, who became disillusioned with Jeffs and the church's refusal to disavow plural marriage involving young girls to older men.
Naomi also is one of Warren's most loyal and staunch supporters, said Richard Holm, an excommunicated church member who continues to live in Colorado City.
Carolyn Jessop, a Salt Lake City resident and former FLDS member, said Naomi married Rulon Jeffs when she was 17 and he was nearly 90. Later, Naomi and her sister, Paula, were the first among Rulon's wives to become Warren's wives, Jessop said.
The two sisters' father is Merrill Jessop, who is based at the FLDS ranch in Eldorado, Texas, according to Jessop. Jessop, an ex- wife of Merrill Jessop, added that Warren Jeffs is married to approximately nine of Merrill Jessop's daughters and Naomi is a favorite.
"That's one of the reasons I left. I didn't want him to marry my daughter," said Jessop.
She described Naomi as nice and extremely beautiful, with hair down to her knees. As a child, Naomi tended to be the target of other mothers' anger who seemed to resent her becaues she was so pretty, Jessop said.
Holm said that a month or two after Rulon Jeffs died in 2002, Naomi - in an unusual move - stood up at an FLDS meeting and confirmed that Warren was to be his father's successor as president and prophet of the church. At that same meeting, another wife and Isaac stood and gave the same testimony.
Jeffs has been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list since May, with a $100,000 reward offered for information leading to his capture.
The FLDS Church, which embraces polygamy, split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when the mainstream Mormon Church disavowed plural marriage more than 100 years ago.
The capture came more than two years after Jeffs is known to have been seen outside the polygamous community.
Charges brought: A Mohave County, Ariz., grand jury indicted the polygamous leader on June 9, 2005, on one count each of sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor.
The charges stem from him allegedly arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man who already was married; Jeffs is not accused of having sex with the teenager. An Arizona state warrant for his arrest was issued the next day.
A federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and an arrest warrant was issued for Jeffs on June 27, 2005. The Arizona state charges are Class 6 felonies, the next serious offense above a misdemeanor, and each are punishable by up to a year in jail.
In July 2005, the states of Utah and Arizona offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Jeffs' arrest. In January, the FBI added $50,000 to the amount, saying it hoped the enhanced reward would encourage someone to reveal the leader's whereabouts. The agency issued an alert cautioning that Jeffs might be traveling "with a number of loyal and armed bodyguards."
After a hearing in Las Vegas, extradition proceedings could begin to return Jeffs to Arizona. Federal authorities at this point might drop the charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The extradition procedure usually takes only a few days.
The only basis to fight extradition is a claim that the detainee is not the person listed in the warrant. This legal battle generally lasts 30 to 90 days, and the time spent in jail does not count as credit against any sentence that is eventually imposed.
The demanding state pays the jail costs of the holding state and the cost of transporting the prisoner.
The United States has an extradition treaty with most other nations. In addition to asserting they are not the wanted person, detainees being held outside the United States also can argue against extradition by claiming they are political prisoners.
Search for fugitive: The hunt for Jeffs, who has been FLDS president since 2002, included what appeared to be false sightings in the months leading up to his capture. A man spotted in a Cabela's outdoor-outfitter store in Lehi turned out to be a brother of Jeffs. Other alerts that Jeffs visited an Albertsons grocery in Riverton, went to Strawberry Reservoir and even traveled to central Florida to buy property didn't pan out.
In addition, authorities likely looked in areas where the church has property, including Eldorado, Texas; Mancos, Colo.; and Pringle, S.D. FLDS members also live in Nevada and Canada.
An October traffic stop in Colorado looked like a break at first. A Pueblo County sheriff's deputy responding to a call of a possible drunken driver found no evidence that the two men in the SUV he pulled over were under the influence of alcohol or drugs but searched the vehicle because they acted suspiciously.
The occupants were Seth Steed Jeffs, a brother of the FLDS president, and Nathan Allred, a nephew of the Jeffs brothers. The search turned up $142,000 in cash, cellular phones, prepaid credit cards, a GPS unit, PalmPilot, computer and musical equipment, hundreds of envelopes addressed to “The Prophet” or “Warren Jeffs” and a jar with his picture and a label reading “Pennies for the Prophet.”
Seth Jeffs was charged in Colorado with a federal count of harboring and concealing his brother. However, the arrest failed to lead authorities to the FLDS leader. Seth Jeffs was sentenced in July to three years of probation and fined $2,500.
FLDS teachings: The FLDS hews to the early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, including plural marriage. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left polygamy behind in 1890 and now excommunicates members who practice it.
Jeffs' arrest is the latest in a series of events that have put the spotlight on the FLDS. In January 2004, the leader expelled 21 men from the community, exposing what some outsiders said was instability in the church. Jeffs had cast out members in the months before and more expulsions followed after the January episode. One former follower refused to leave his home and won the right in court to remain.
The past few years brought more upheaval, including a series of legal actions.
In July 2004, Brent Jeffs filed suit accusing three of his uncles, including Warren Jeffs, of sexually assaulting him when he was a child. His suit also named the FLDS Church as a defendant. A month later, a half dozen "lost boys" who say they were cast out of their homes in the Hildale-Colorado City community to reduce competition for wives sued the church and its officials, including Jeffs.
Then in August 2004, former FLDS member Shem Fischer added the church and Jeffs as defendants to a 2002 lawsuit claiming he was illegally fired from his job as a salesman at a Hildale cabinetry business because he no longer adhered to the faith.
And in December, a woman identified only as M.J. in court papers sued over her alleged forced plural marriage. Once again, Jeffs and the FLDS Church were named as defendants.
Last year, the United Effort Plan, a trust that controls most of the property in Hildale and Colorado City, was put under the control of a court-appointed special fiduciary and its trustees were stripped of power. The action came after Jeffs and the church failed to respond to the lawsuits, sparking fears that they would lose by default and put residents of the FLDS community in jeopardy of losing their homes to pay off a monetary award to the plaintiffs.
Other actions directed at the FLDS in 2005 include the state of Arizona taking control of the Colorado City school district and eight male members of the polygamous community other than Jeffs being charged with sex offenses for their alleged marriages to underage girls.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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