DENVER – The younger brother of Warren Jeffs was sentenced to three years’ probation Friday for harboring his fugitive sibling, saying he knew he was wrong in hampering the search for the polygamist sect leader.
Seth Steed Jeffs of Hildale, Utah, was also fined $2,500. In a brief statement in court, Jeffs, 33, said he wants to live in Colorado and “get on with my life.”
“I knew what I did was wrong as I was doing it, but I didn’t realize the severity of what I was doing,” he said. “I did all I can to remove myself from this situation … I never want to find myself in that situation again.”
Prosecutor Phil Brimmer asked for a three-month prison term, saying it would serve as a better deterrent. U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn, however, said he found Jeffs to be contrite and praised him for trying to remove himself from the sect.
“I must not and will not visit the sins of your fugitive brother on you,” Blackburn said.
A Justice Department spokesman, Jeff Dorschner, said prosecutors considered the case a victory, though there has been no public indication that Seth Jeffs has provided any guidance in finding his brother.
“This prosecution has aided the government and its investigation into the location of Warren Jeffs,” Dorschner said, refusing to elaborate.
Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was indicted in June on an Arizona charge of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a married man and on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. He is also charged in Utah with two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice, for allegedly arranging the marriage of a teenage girl to an older man in Nevada.
The FLDS Church, which embraces polygamy as one of its beliefs, is based in Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., and has a ranch in Eldorado, Texas. Members of the church, once affiliated with the mainline Mormon church, left the faith when Mormons abandoned the practice of polygamy more than 100 years ago. The FLDS was formally founded in the 1980s.
Seth Jeffs, a computer programmer, was arrested Oct. 28, 2005, after a traffic stop in southern Colorado’s Pueblo County. He was arrested on a federal charge of concealing a fugitive. He was also charged with prostitution and solicitation because a man traveling with Jeffs in an SUV said he had been hired for sex, according to court records.
During the stop, authorities found nearly $142,000 in cash, about $7,000 worth of prepaid debit and cell phone cards and his brother’s personal records. Dorschner said a judge will have to decide later what will happen to the money and other items.
Jeffs’ defense attorney, Daniel Smith, said outside court that Jeffs has six children, one legal wife and one “plural” wife in a religious marriage.
“How is it any different from (someone) being legally married and having a mistress that he supports?” Smith said.
During the hearing, the attorney said he visited Hildale and Colorado City and found it to be a “poisonous environment,” where people don’t gather for church services or community events because of suspicions surrounding civil litigation and ongoing investigations by the FBI and authorities in Utah and Arizona.
Prosecutors said they believed Seth Jeffs was helping funnel cash and other items to his brother so Warren Jeffs could continue to act as head of the FLDS. After his arrest, FBI agent Andrew Stearns testified Jeffs told him he didn’t know where the elder Jeffs was, but wouldn’t reveal his whereabouts if he did.
The fugitive charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Because Jeffs pleaded guilty and had no criminal history, he faced no more than six months behind bars.