The noose around fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is tightening.
Just days after Jeffs was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, Utah’s attorney general confirmed to the Deseret Morning News that his office has been quietly conducting an organized crime investigation into Jeffs and the Fundamentalist LDS Church.
“I believe Warren Jeffs ran the FLDS Church and the UEP as an organized crime-type setup,” Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Monday. “We just have to get the evidence to prove it.”
The attorney general said Jeffs and the FLDS Church are being looked at for “double books, cooking books, offshore accounts and fraud.” In 2005, the Utah Attorney General’s Office petitioned the courts to take control of the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust, which controls homes, businesses and property in the polygamous border towns of Hildale and Colorado City.
A judge appointed a special fiduciary to oversee the $110 million financial arm of the FLDS Church. It is those records that Shurtleff said his office is examining in the organized-crime investigation.
“We’ve been following closely what the special fiduciary is uncovering from records and so forth,” he said. “It has been very informative, we’ll say.”
Jeffrey L. Shields, a lawyer for special fiduciary Bruce Wisan, said any records are being shared because the Utah Attorney General’s Office is a party to the UEP case. “Generally, we’re sharing, not just with the attorney general but with the public,” Shields said Monday.
Shields said the UEP did not keep much in the way of books or records, but what is being gleaned is being passed back and forth between many entities involved in the case.
Asked if investigators had uncovered anything criminal, Shurtleff said, “I can’t say.”
On Saturday, Warren Jeffs was named to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, putting him in the company of serial murderers, child murderers and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his capture.
Publicity surrounding Jeffs’ name on the most-wanted list has gone global, with his picture being publicized in newspapers, TV and the Internet.
Finding the fugitive prophet could be difficult.
Jeffs has been on the run for years, supported by money and resources from his devoted followers within the FLDS Church. Authorities are investigating rumors that Jeffs was in the Hildale/Colorado City area within the past few weeks. Some believe he has been at the FLDS Church’s temple site in Eldorado, Texas.
“He’s got everything he needs there,” said Sam Brower, a private investigator who has been tracking the FLDS Church for ex-members who are suing the group. “He’s got money, vehicles, wives. People go there to worship him.”
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said Monday he did not believe Jeffs was on the “YFZ Ranch” in Texas. It’s named after a song Jeffs wrote called “Yearn for Zion.” Doran said he was attempting to arrange a meeting with people on the FLDS Church’s ranch to discuss the recent developments.
“We have always expressed it to them and urged them to comply or give us information or have Warren turn himself in,” Doran said.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said he would like to see FBI agents spend more time watching the YFZ Ranch.
“I am urging them very strongly to put in some additional observation, especially at the Texas compound,” Goddard said. “What it’s going to take is a comprehensive federal, state and local task force approach to close in on Mr. Jeffs.”
Goddard said he and Shurtleff expressed concern that the FBI was not doing enough to track Jeffs but said he “applauded” the decision to put Jeffs on the most-wanted list. Arizona’s next targets appear to be the Colorado City Unified School District and police officers within the polygamous border towns.
“I’ve been in contact with the Justice Department about civil rights violations by officers in the Colorado City town marshal’s office,” he said Monday. The Arizona attorney general told the Deseret Morning News the Justice Department has opened a file on the police officers, but would not say more.
Recently, Arizona has gone after police officers’ certifications, following Utah’s lead. Lawyers for the court-appointed special fiduciary questioned officers last month about their loyalties to Jeffs involving the theft of property from the UEP. A federal grand jury in Arizona is also investigating Jeffs and the FLDS Church. A police officer and assistant postmaster in Colorado City are being held in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury last month.
The FBI is investigating the possibility of another FLDS property in Mexico, near Cancun. On Jeffs’ wanted poster, it lists a possible location as Quintana Roo, Mexico.
“Obviously, if they have a presence there’s certainly a possibility he could have gone there,” FBI special agent Patrick Kiernan said Monday.
However, Mary Batchelor with the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices said she has been to the area and no FLDS members are there. She said there is a colony of polygamists there but they are members of the LeBaron family.
“There’s only about eight homes there. It’s not a very big community and they would know if there are any other fundamentalists there,” she said.
Utah and Arizona authorities said that they were unsure of a Mexico compound’s existence.
Authorities are hoping Jeffs will surrender, ending the possibility of a violent stand-off in an attempt to capture the fugitive prophet. Former followers said that in a 2003 sermon, Jeffs compared himself to Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and declared that if he ever went to jail he would not come out alive.
“We all want him to turn himself in,” Shurtleff said.
Doran said he will continue to negotiate with Jeffs’ followers in Eldorado in an attempt to avoid what happened in Waco, Texas. In 1993, more than 80 people ó including two dozen children ó died in a fiery siege with federal agents at the Branch-Davidian cult’s compound in Waco.
“Unlike most law enforcement, we are at least able to communicate and go on the property,” he said.