FLDS boss Jeffs now among agency’s most-wanted fugitives
The FBI on Saturday placed fugitive polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list alongside some of America’s most notorious criminals.
Jeffs, who is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and is wanted in Utah and Arizona on sex-abuse charges, joins a roster that includes suspected murderers, mobsters and the terrorist and fellow polygamist Osama Bin Laden. The designation as one of America’s most-sought fugitives means Jeffs will be featured on the FBI’s Web site and his photograph will be sent to all bureau offices and other law enforcement agencies.
Jeffs, 50, has been wanted since June, when a Mohave, Ariz., grand jury indicted him on sexual contact with a minor and conspiracy charges in the forced marriage of a teenage girl to a married 28-year-old man. Last month, prosecutors in Washington County, Utah, filed two counts of first-degree rape against Jeffs, saying he was an accomplice in the sexual assault of an underage girl.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is based in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., but also has enclaves in Eldorado, Texas; Mancos, Colo.; and Pringle, S.D. It hews to the early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church, including plural marriage. FLDS faithful consider Jeffs the sect’s prophet and leader.
Federal authorities have filed against Jeffs two counts of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, related to the state charges. A $60,000 reward had been offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction, but that was raised to $100,000 Saturday.
Also on Saturday, the television show “America’s Most Wanted” broadcast a segment about Jeffs, portraying him as a tyrant and sexual predator of children.
Tim Fuhrman, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Salt Lake City office, said the FBI designation is given to fugitives with serious criminal records or is given in cases where law enforcement thinks increased publicity will assist in a capture. The decision to place Jeffs on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list was made by the FBI’s deputy director.
Public assistance thus far hasn’t produced results. In the past year, reports Jeffs visited an outdoor-outfitter in Lehi and a grocery store in Riverton, fished at Strawberry Reservoir and traveled to Florida to buy property were all disproved or at least failed to lead to his capture.
“In this region, Mr. Jeffs is a relatively well-known face,” said Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith, who attended the Salt Lake City news conference announcing Jeff’s addition to the list, “but you get outside this region and not many people know who Mr. Jeffs is.”
Smith said Saturday investigators had gained a lot of intelligence from people Jeffs has expelled from the FLDS church and from Hildale and Colorado City. Smith declined to elaborate.
“We feel like we’re very close” to capturing Jeffs, Smith said. “We don’t feel like it’s far off.”
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said he was pleased with Jeffs’ addition to the FBI list, but wants more action from the federal government, including a federal task force dedicated to finding him.
“It’s a tough apprehension,” Goddard said. “It’s going to take some real case agents who know his travel habits, who know his personal habits and who know the FLDS.”
Goddard also has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the police in Hildale and Colorado City for possible civil rights abuses. Goddard said he has received an oral reply saying the matter is on the Justice Department’s list of things to investigate.
Fuhrman said Saturday that Jeffs may be traveling with armed bodyguards. He said anyone who spots Jeffs or has information about him should contact the FBI or local law enforcement.
“I don’t know what his endgame is,” Fuhrman said. “I wish, like most fugitives, he would come in and surrender.”