Law enforcement officials across the Southwest anticipate a lengthy search for the leader of a rebel Mormon polygamist sect who recently was indicted on accusations of arranging a teen’s marriage to a man.
Warren Jeffs, through his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, is known to own property in Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Texas. But the controversial church leader has been keeping out of sight.
“Nobody has seen him in six months,” said Andrea Es quer, spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general’s office.
Authorities are keeping tabs on known FLDS properties in the U.S., but there could be others here and abroad, said Gary Engels, an investigator in Arizona’s Mohave County.
“I firmly believe he has places we don’t know about,” he said.
Engels, who has been investigating the church for nine months, said he is seeking evidence for additional indictments in the FLDS enclaves of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
In Colorado, local law enforcement officials continue to monitor church property in the high country north of Mancos, which they say has seen little use by anyone other than caretakers.
On Thursday, Montezuma County Undersheriff David Hart saw a couple of cars parked in the driveway but no sign of activity, he said.
“We’ve been up there watching the property, just because there are lots of questions about what’s going to go on up there,” he said.
The FLDS church split from mainstream Mormonism when polygamy was outlawed by church leaders in the 1890s.
While Jeffs’ recent indictment has rekindled media interest in the church, Engels said many FLDS members probably remain unaware that their leader is on the run.
“They’re not supposed to be reading newspapers or watching TV or listening to radio or talking to outside people,” he said. “I think a lot of them don’t know what’s going on. The ones that do know what’s going on are very worried that they’re going to have to make a decision very soon about which way to go.”
A former church trustee who heads up an FLDS offshoot in British Columbia came out against Jeffs on Thursday, siding with state officials who would permanently strip Jeffs of any control over church assets, according to The Associated Press.
A trust owns all of the land in Colorado City and Hildale and also benefits from tithes from the group’s estimated 6,000 to 10,000 members.
Raymond Scott Berry, the church’s Salt Lake City attorney, could not be reached for comment.