VANCOUVER (CP) – It’s too early to say whether the U.S. arrest of a polygamous leader will have an impact in Canada on an investigation into the sect’s Bountiful, B.C. community, says an RCMP spokesman.
Sgt. John Ward said Warren Jeffs is not facing any charges in Canada, nor is he a suspect in the Mounties’ ongoing investigation in Bountiful, where allegations of child abuse surfaced years ago. Allegations of human trafficking, involving young girls being moved across U.S. borders and into Canada so they can be married off to older men, have also come up.
Jeffs’s sect is based in the state-line communities of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah, and he also has followers in Bountiful.
The self-proclaimed “speaker of God’s will” and leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is wanted in the two states on suspicion of sexual misconduct for allegedly arranging marriages of underage girls. He is also wanted for fraud.
Ward said the Mounties’ probe of Bountiful, a community south of Creston, B.C., is moving ahead.
“We are very close to being able to send a report to Crown counsel” for consideration of criminal charges, he said.
Last month, the attorneys general of B.C., Arizona and Utah met to discuss the polygamy situation in their jurisdictions.
However, any investigations into the polygamous activities of the sect have been hampered by the lack of witnesses wanting to testify.
Followers of the sect are said to be brainwashed into distrusting authorities and many of the women say they’re happy sharing a husband with several other women.
Jeffs was captured Monday evening on the outskirts of Las Vegas after being on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list since May.
Jeffs’ vehicle was stopped on Interstate 15 for having a temporary Colorado licence tag that wasn’t easily readable, FBI and Nevada Highway Patrol officials said.
State Trooper Eddie Dutchover said he felt something was amiss.
“Something was obviously wrong,” Dutchover said.
“I even told him: ‘You’re making me nervous. Is everything OK?”‘
“He said: ‘Everything’s fine,”‘ Dutchover said.
“He just stared straight ahead.”
Dutchover called other officers. Even when Sgt. David Miller found letters in the car addressed to “President Warren Jeffs,” Jeffs refused to give his name.
Jeffs identified himself as John Findley, using a contact lens receipt from Florida as identification.
“Once the FBI got there,” Dutchover said, “he gave his full name, Warren Jeffs, and kind of gave a sigh.”
Jeffs would not tell investigators where he had been hiding out but he did say “that he was being subject to what he termed religious prosecutions,” said FBI agent John Lewis.
Jeffs was being held Tuesday in Clark County jail, awaiting a court hearing Thursday on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
Two people travelling with him, wife Naomi Jeffs and a brother, Isaac Steed Jeffs, both 32, were released and will not be charged, FBI agent Steven Martinez said. Martinez said Warren Jeffs initially used an alias but Martinez would not disclose the name.
Authorities said Jeffs was found with cellphones, laptop computers, wigs and more than $50,000 US in cash when he was captured.
Debbie Palmer, a woman who left Bountiful and has written of her experience, said Tuesday she doubted the arrest would result in other women leaving the sect.
“I’d be surprised if it does because he’s been preparing for this (his arrest) one way or another for months and months,” Palmer, who now lives in Prince Albert, Sask., reported.
“I’ve got nieces and sisters that are in some of those compounds in the States and in Canada. I cannot see his arrest helping us get to them.”
Members of the community in Bountiful are divided between those who follow Jeffs and those who follow his rival, Winston Blackmore.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church, renounced polygamy in 1890, and the FDLS split from it. The Mormon church excommunicates members found to be practising polygamy.