Seth Steed Jeffs, 33, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one felony count of “knowingly harboring and concealing” his brother, who is wanted in Utah and Arizona on sexual assault charges. Warren Jeffs, 50, is president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a polygamous sect traditionally based in the twin communities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz.
Seth Jeffs made no other comments in court. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 14 and remains free on a $25,000 property bond.
Leaving the courtroom, Seth Jeffs declined to speak to reporters, smiling and saying only, “It all happened in there.”
A search of the vehicle uncovered $142,000 in cash earmarked for Warren Jeffs and correspondence addressed to him. Also seized: seven cell phones and $7,000 worth of untraceable prepaid debit and phone cards.
The harboring charge carries a maximum term of five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. But defense attorney Daniel Smith noted Seth Jeffs had taken responsibility and acknowledged committing the crime, a step that reduces his potential sentence under federal sentencing guidelines.
“That qualifies Mr. Jeffs for a probationary sentence,” Smith said after the brief hearing.
Prosecutors said the sentencing guidelines call for Seth Jeffs to serve zero to six months. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Taylor, also speaking outside the courtroom, said prosecutors will seek a jail term, and indicated Seth Jeffs has not cooperated in the search for his brother.
Warren Jeffs has been on the FBI’s most wanted list since June 2005, when a Mohave, Ariz. grand jury indicted him on sexual contact with a minor and conspiracy charges for allegedly forcing a teenage girl to wed a married 28-year-old man.
Last month, prosecutors in Washington County, Utah filed two counts of first-degree rape against Warren Jeffs for being an accomplice in the sexual assault of an underage girl. He allegedly told the girl to marry and have sex with an older man or “you’ll lose your salvation,” according to an affidavit from the teenage girl.
Federal authorities also have filed two counts of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution against the elder Jeffs, related to the state charges. A $60,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
Authorities had hoped the arrest of the younger Jeffs would be the break they needed to locate Warren Jeffs. But according to an FBI arrest affidavit, Seth Jeffs told agents that while he knew his brother was wanted, “prophets are often persecuted” and that no member of the FLDS would cooperate with authorities.
Warren Jeffs is considered a prophet by his estimated 10,000 followers. The FLDS also has enclaves in Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, Nevada and British Columbia. It follows the early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced plural marriage in 1890.