Sect leader wanted by U.S. authorities
VANCOUVER — When U.S. law enforcement authorities pulled over a van being driven erratically on Interstate 25 near Pueblo, Colo., last month, they got an intriguing glimpse into the hidden world of Warren Jeffs — a fugitive and self-styled prophet of a polygamist sect with ties to Canada.
In the van was Mr. Jeffs’s younger brother, Seth Steed Jeffs, 32, who was carrying with him $142,000 (U.S.) in cash, seven cellphones, prepaid phone cards, credit cards and several hundred letters addressed to Warren Jeffs from loyal followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The sect, which practises polygamy, has an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 members with property in Arizona, Utah, Texas, Canada and Mexico. About 1,000 of those members live in Bountiful, near Creston, in southeastern B.C.
Seth Jeffs, detained on a federal count of concealing a person from arrest, denied knowing his brother’s whereabouts and said he was delivering the cash and documents to organization leaders in Texas.
Police, however, suspected that what they had really come across was a supply run that was providing just a small part of the funds being made available to Mr. Jeffs during his life as a fugitive from justice.
They believe he is being shuttled from one polygamous sect to another — and now may be hiding somewhere in B.C.
But he could be anywhere, with reported sightings in several states.
Mr. Jeffs has been sought by the FBI since he was indicted in Arizona, last June, on charges of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 28-year-old married man.
In the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints such a marriage transaction was allegedly not unusual under the leadership of Mr. Jeffs, 49, a narrow-faced man who wielded absolute power.
Police have visited church communities in several states looking for him, and yesterday Mark Shurtleff, the Attorney-General of Utah who is spearheading investigations, brought the search to B.C.
Mr. Shurtleff came to Vancouver to seek the support of B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal in a broad law enforcement front that is moving against polygamist sects in general and specifically against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Emerging from a meeting with Mr. Oppal, Mr. Shurtleff said he is urging the province to work with Utah in investigating alleged crimes involving polygamist sects with cross-border links.
In particular, he is seeking a memorandum of understanding that will help U.S. officials cut off Mr. Jeffs’ access to millions of dollars invested in B.C. real estate.
He said Mr. Jeffs, “is rumoured to have properties other than just in Bountiful where he might be hiding out, so if the point comes when he is located here in Canada . . . we’re obviously going to have to work together in order to bring him to justice.” He said the church put all of its property into a trust controlled by Mr. Jeffs.
But U.S. courts have ruled Mr. Jeffs violated that trust and froze all of his assets, Mr. Shurtleff said.
“Which means even the property, we believe, in British Columbia, which amounts to a value of several millions of dollars cannot be used. . . Warren Jeffs can’t come in and sell property or transfer it to his loyal lieutenants, like he has been doing,” Mr. Shurtleff said.
Mr. Oppal said British Columbia is interested in helping.
He said the RCMP is currently investigating allegations of sexual abuse within polygamist communities in B.C., but in the past, similar investigations have failed to generate charges.
“We hear constantly and continually of the things that are [allegedly] happening out there, about children being abused, about sexual exploitation of young people but we can’t do anything with that unless we have a witness . . . documentary evidence that will stand up in a court of law. And that’s what the RCMP are doing now and we’re awaiting the results of their investigation.”
Mr. Oppal made his comments during a press conference. Listening quietly at the back of the room was Winston Blackmore, who heads one of two separate groups of polygamists in Bountiful.
Mr. Blackmore used to be the bishop of Bountiful, but he was pushed out in 2002 by Warren Jeffs’s father, Rulon, leading to a division within the community.
Mr. Blackmore said yesterday his supporters will co-operate with any police investigation.
But he didn’t know the whereabouts of Mr. Jeffs. “I haven’t seen him for a long time. But I would guess, if he’s not in Canada, he’s the most foolish person I’ve ever seen.”
“You think he’s in Canada?” he was asked. “I think he is,” Mr. Blackmore said.