FBI Hunts Polygamist Preacher (Anderson Cooper transcript)

ANNOUNCER: […] Polygamist on the run — America’s most wanted. Now his nephew is speaking out against the uncle he calls a child molester.

[ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR]: Well, he’s on the same list as Osama bin Laden, America’s most wanted. His name is Warren Jeffs, the fugitive leader of a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church. He’s wanted for marrying and having sex with a number of underage girls. He’s also accused of molesting boys.

He and his thousands of followers believe in polygamy, and, tonight, we take you inside this sect. In a moment, we will talk with a nephew of Warren Jeffs, a young man who says he himself was molested by his uncle. Also, we hear from the authorities now hot on his trail.

But we begin with a look at the young men who dissented from the teachings of Warren Jeffs. And they have been cast out, literally cut off from family and friends, and forced to begin their lives all over again.

Their stories now from CNN’s Sean Callebs.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the edge of the desert, straddling the Utah and Arizona border, a community of breakaway Mormon fundamentalists lives in shuttered houses behind walls and gates, miles from other towns. In Utah, it’s called Hildale, and, in Arizona, Colorado City.

For generations, this group of about 7,000 people has shunned the rest of America and the opinions of outsiders.

GARY ENGELS, MOHAVE COUNTY INVESTIGATOR: They put these walls up for privacy.

CALLEBS (voice-over): County investigator Gary Engels has come to know a lot about this secretive group.

(on camera): Do they really believe they’re the chosen ones?


CALLEBS: When judgment day comes, what happens to these chosen people?

ENGELS: These chosen people believe that they will be lifted up, while God sweeps the Earth clean of the wicked people. And then they will be set back down to rebuild the Earth and replenish it.

CALLEBS: Engels has been sent to this town to investigate a variety of disturbing allegations and criminal charges, ranging from child neglect to rape and theft.

ENGELS: And I came to be here because of all of the different types of accusations and rumors that have been coming out of this place for some time.

CALLEBS: The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, has been here since the 1930s. It broke away from the mainstream Mormon Church more than a century ago. The breakaway sect wanted to pursue polygamy, a practice renounced by mainstream Mormons for more than 100 years and outlawed in every state.


The FLDS is also considered to be a cult of Christianity. Sociologically,the group is a high-control cult.

The group considers its leader, Warren Jeffs, a prophet, to be obeyed without question. Former members say Jeffs has several dozen wives. He selects multiple wives for other church elders, sometimes reassigning wives from one man to another, and imposes rigid rules.

SAM BROWARD, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Warren Jeffs does need to be stopped. He has to be reined in and stopped.

CALLEBS: Sam Broward is a local private investigator.

BROWARD: If they argue with him or voice any dissension, they’re — they’re — they’re kicked out.

CALLEBS: Broward has been hired by some of those who have been kicked out, a group of adolescent boys. Over the last seven years, investigators like Sam and Gary estimate, as many 400 boys, some as young as 13 years old, have been banished by Warren Jeffs for seemingly trivial infractions.

RICHARD GILBERT, RAISED BY POLYGAMISTS: I was excommunicated by the prophet Warren Jeffs at the age of 16, because I decided that I wanted to go to public school.

TOMMY STEED, EXCOMMUNICATED TEEN: I had nowhere to go, no food to eat.

CALLEBS: Tommy Steed committed the crime, he says, of watching movies.

Each of these boys has his own story, having a girlfriend, using curse words, going to beer parties, refusing religious instruction, all causes for excommunication for these and so many other boys.

CALLEBS (on camera): There’s also speculation that the boys are kind of drummed out because they’re competition for these young brides.

BROWARD: Right. And then that’s — I mean, that can’t help but be true. Mathematics alone would dictate that there has to be a lot more hens than roosters in the community.

CALLEBS (voice-over): The prophet, who investigators say created this situation, Warren Jeffs, is now on the run. He faces an arrest warrant issued by the state of Arizona, which alleges a series of abuses, including engaging in sex with a minor.

(on camera): Where is Warren Jeffs today?

ENGELS: I have no idea. CALLEBS: Is he dangerous?

ENGELS: Well, when you have a radical person like he is that has the control over the people he has, I think he’s unstable.

CALLEBS: As for what the FLDS community in Colorado City has to say about all of this, it’s hard to tell. We spoke with the mayor of Colorado City, David Zitting, and he says people in his community are content, and that they don’t want to speak with the media.

He says people in Colorado City have had dealings with the press in the past, and it has been a bad experience — that from the mayor of Colorado City.

Sean Callebs, CNN.


COOPER: Well, remember, this is happening right now, in this country, thousands of people living under the rule of one man, a prophet, they say. We are going to have more on the hunt for fugitive church leader Warren Jeffs and a rare window into his troubled teachings. The FBI says he’s a criminal. His followers, as I said, think he is a man of God.

In his polygamist sect, his word is final. And what he preaches is chilling — coming up, the people on his trail, plus the roots of his beliefs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people who practice polygamy in Utah today see themselves as continuing a practice that was urged upon Latter Day Saints by their earlier prophets.


COOPER: We will talk to the nephew of Warren Jeffs, who says that he himself was abused by his uncle. And we will also look at what came before Warren Jeffs and his followers, and why it matters today — next on 360.


COOPER: He’s a polygamist preacher wanted by the FBI who had a tight grip on his followers, to say the least. Tonight, you will hear for yourself the sermons of Warren Jeffs, now wanted by the FBI.

COOPER: Well, coming up, new troubles for fugitive polygamist Warren Jeffs. He and his church are now the targets of an organized crime investigation. We will talk to Utah’s attorney general.


COOPER: More now on Warren Jeffs, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list, recently added to that list. The fugitive leader of a polygamist sect, he’s facing criminal charges of sexual conduct with a minor.

Michael Watkiss, investigative reporter, has been reporting on Jeffs and his fundamentalist sect for years now. He joins me from Phoenix.

Michael, thanks for being with us.

How does this guy, who, I mean, in all his pictures, you know, looks like this sort of meek guy — you — you wouldn’t, you know, think twice about him if you saw him in a mall. How does he maintain such command of thousands of people?

MICHAEL WATKISS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Because he inherited a whole belief system that — from his father and prophets before him.

And the bottom line, this culture — America is waking up to the fact that there are now polygamists in our midst. But those of us here in Arizona and Utah realize that there have — polygamists honeycombed throughout the American Southwest, and have been for more than 100 years.

Warren Jeffs has inherited the mantle of great power, this largest, most sinister and darkest community, about 10,000 strong, centered on the Utah/Arizona border. He’s a Svengali-like personality. And the bottom line, he is now an extremist among extremists, and he has taken his people from sort of abhorrent behavior to what all of you are now reporting, the forced marriages of these young girls, the young boys being driven out, rampant welfare fraud to support these large families.

It is now a sort of an investigation into organized crime, because there are now so many layers. We have a federal grand jury operating here in Arizona. You need a scorecard to now follow all of the various law enforcement agencies. But the bottom line, he’s now on the FBI’s 10 most wanted. That’s a very significant step. We have been fighting for 10 years to make that happen.

COOPER: And — and he has got — he has got, basically, sort of two communities that straddle Arizona and — and Utah; is that correct?

WATKISS: That’s exactly right, and — and for good reason.

When the — they splintered off the Mormon Church, and Utah became a state and outlawed polygamy, these people went down there very intentionally, and found the most remote spot on the American geography.

It’s separated from most of Arizona by the Grand Canyon. It’s separated for most of Utah by these towering mountains. They went there and literally put themselves right on the border, because if cops came and bugged them in Utah, they could walk across the street and be in Arizona.

There have been interactions with law enforcement over the years — nothing to the extent we’re seeing now. But they — it’s basically a culture that has thrived in secrecy in this secret garden. These terrible fruits have — now coming to bear. And, finally, finally, after much pushing by activists and a few reporters, we’re getting some action.

COOPER: In — in your documentary, you show just how really intertwined polygamy is in Colorado City, one of their cities. Let’s watch this clip.


WATKISS: Ruth Stubbs knows all about being placed into a polygamist marriage. At the age of 16, Ruth was given as a so-called plural wife to a 32-year-old polygamist man who already had two wives and nearly 20 children, a man by the name of Rodney Holm, a guy who also just happens to be a sworn officer on Colorado City’s police force.


COOPER: So, I mean, this isn’t just some religious group. I mean, they have — they have a police force. They have all the sort of mechanisms of — of power. Is there complete complicity between local law enforcement in that city and Jeffs?

WATKISS: Complete complicity. They are all card-carrying followers of Warren Jeffs. We have now got a couple of these law officers decertified, which has been a huge step. But the bottom line, they have acted as sort of a Gestapo. A young girl doesn’t want to get married. The cops will go, if she run as way, they’ll chase her down and bring her back. They’re the guys who drive the young men out of the communities. If the prophet says he’s got to go, these guys will start pulling these poor kids over and giving them traffic tickets. They don’t have money for that. The cop says, you want this to go away, you leave town. This is what’s led to the lost boys.

The police force is a Gestapo. That case you’re talking about, Rod Holm, is really what set all this in motion. His brave young wife came forward, helped prosecutors throw her polygamist cop husband into jail. Warren went underground because he knew it could happen to him.

COOPER: I listen to you talk and it just boggles my mind that we are talking about something that is happening in the United States of America, and you can see these places on a map. It boggles the mind that this is happening. You know, you’ve been on this story for a long time. We’re just kind of waking up to it. We’re going to talk more about it in this hour. We’d like to talk to you again, Michael Watkiss, appreciate you joining us. It’s fascinating.

WATKISS: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up, the world of Warren Jeffs and his followers. We know it’s secretive and according to the FBI, downright abusive. Could it also be a form of organized crime? We’re going to talk to Utah’s attorney general who thinks so. We’re going to find out why ahead.

Also, family secrets uncovered. We’ll talk to Warren Jeffs’ nephew, his own flesh and blood, about the allegations he has made about his uncle coming up next on 360.


COOPER: Well, we’ve been reporting tonight on Warren Jeffs who landed on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list three days ago. Today his troubles got worse. Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is now targeting Jeffs and his polygamist church in an organized crime investigation. He joins me now. Thanks very much for being with us. Organized crime, how?

MARK SHURTLEFF, UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, look, this is an organization where he has absolute control over the assets of every single person. Every company is owned by a trust where he has been, until recently, the only trustee of that trust. He’s been able to control people through fear, through intimidation tactics, holding not only their mortal lives but their eternal lives in the palm of his hand. And he’s reigned with terror and threats and fear to allow him to continue his criminal enterprises.

COOPER: Do you believe he believes what he is preaching, or do you think he’s just a charlatan or does it not matter for the purposes of your investigation?

SHURTLEFF: You know, I don’t think it matters. I’ve tried to — never make this about religion, but about a man who, because of the closed nature of the society, because quite frankly the states of Arizona and Utah for 50 years Anderson did nothing. They turned a blind eye to what was going on in these communities. And because he closed down the ability of people to communicate with the outside world and outlawed TV and radio and any other communication, it allowed him to become a tyrant to commit these crimes with impunity, to feel that he’s above the law, and now finally we’re trying to bring him to justice, but he doesn’t want to come in. He’s a coward. I’m sure he loves the sex, the power and the money that he has, and so for that reason, unfortunately, we’re going to have to arrest him. And I hope with programs like yours, we’ll be able to do that.

COOPER: At this point, what exactly has he been charged with and what else do you think is out there?

SHURTLEFF: He’s been charged in both the states of Arizona and California with sex crimes related to children. In Utah he’s been charged with first degree felony child rape. And in addition, the Feds have charged him with Federal felonies, Federal crimes, flight to avoid prosecution, the fact that he’s a fugitive. Now, we began four years ago meeting with the joint task force, Federal, state and local officers to say, look, he’s obviously — we’ve been receiving information that this is a criminal enterprise. That there are separate sets of books, that they’re committing tax evasion, tax fraud, welfare fraud, all these things that affect the taxpayers who are being victimized because of this man and because of the way he’s been abusing the system.

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COOPER: It’s also incredible when you think, he is the leader of thousands of people in this country, and yet finding him seems very difficult. Is he — I mean, is he hiding? Is he just hiding in plain sight? I mean, sort of embraced by this community?

SHURTLEFF: Well, he is. And he’s unique among fugitives who most are out there on their own trying to evade law enforcement. Warren Jeffs has an empire. He has an army. He has security people who are behind him, who are armed. He has safe houses. He has the ability to move around at night. Until recently, he had an airplane to be able to move around. He’s got all the cash he needs. He’s got credit cards and aliases. And so because of that, because of that organization and help, it’s been very difficult to find him. That’s why we’re so pleased that the FBI’s put him on their 10 most wanted list because it mobilizes the resources across this country to try and find him.

COOPER: How concerned are you about the potential for violence in apprehending him?

SHURTLEFF: I’m very concerned. The FBI is very concerned. People say that Warren Jeffs himself is not a violent man, but I’ll tell you what, we’ve had women come out and say that he forced little children in school to kill animals, to slit their throats to get blood on their hands. I know his security guards, his goons, what they call God squad. I know that they will do everything they can to protect him. We know they’re armed. It’s really in Warren’s hands. If we approach him and are ready to arrest him, if he says OK, let it go, let’s do this peacefully, it will happen. Otherwise we are afraid that there will be violence. We don’t want that to happen. Warren, turn yourself in.

COOPER: Do you think he watches television?

SHURTLEFF: I think he does. I don’t believe that he follows the strictures that he has on his people. He moves around. He doesn’t obey the same rules that he imposes on his folks, so yes, I believe he does watch television. I hope he’s watching this program. You know, he says that God is fighting his battles, that God is protecting him. If that’s true, you have no fear then. Warren, turn yourself in, let God defend you in court. Your people have done that, the ones that we’ve charged. Why are you better than that? Turn yourself in.

COOPER: Mark Shurtleff, the attorney general from Utah, appreciate you joining us. Thank you.

SHURTLEFF: Anderson, thanks for getting the word out. We do appreciate it.

COOPER: All right, you take care. Charges of organized crime as the attorney general was just talking about, arranging marriages of under aged girls. That is not all. Coming up, we’ll also hear the allegations leveled at Warren Jeffs by a member of his own family. The young man who says that terrible things were done to him.

COOPER: Well, one of the main stories that we are covering tonight is the FBI hunt for the fundamentalist sect leader, Warren Jeffs, who faces criminal charges of sexual conduct with a minor. He’s become a lot more popular over the past few days since he got onto the Fed’s top 10 most wanted list. Investigators also want to talk to him about organized crime and arranging the marriages of underage girls. One of those who knows firsthand what life is like in Warren Jeff’s (INAUDIBLE) sect and what he is capable of is his nephew, Brent Jeffs. Two years ago he leveled some very serious charges as well. He joins us now live from Salt Lake City. Brent, thanks for being with us.


COOPER: You filed a lawsuit against your uncle, Warren Jeffs, alleging that he had sexually abused you. How did that happen? How old were you? What happened?

JEFFS: I was around five to six years old. And we were attending our usual Jeffs meeting, which would be one of the elite Jeffs meetings. And —

COOPER: Because your grandfather was a prophet.

JEFFS: Yes. And we were the Jeffs, so we were considered the higher, you know, a little bit higher than everybody else for some reason. And during that meeting, they would separate, and we would go downstairs into a little playroom, the kids. He would come down there, escort me out of the room down the hall into the bathroom. There he would sodomize and rape me.

COOPER: And how long did that go on for?

JEFFS: About a year and a half. It didn’t happen every single time, but it randomly happened to me.

COOPER: And did he — did he explain it? I mean, what did he say about it?

JEFFS: He said that this was God’s will, and this is my way of becoming a man and that I have to do — basically he says that if I don’t do what he says, I will burn in hell. And I better not tell anybody. And so I pretty much had kept it to myself my whole life pretty much.

COOPER: To your knowledge, were there other young boys who were abused in this way?

JEFFS: I don’t know of other boys, per se. My oldest brother, Kloehn (ph), he was a victim, one of the first in our family. But other people, I’m not sure.

COOPER: And Kloehn took his life?

JEFFS: He did.

COOPER: What do you want people to know about Warren Jeffs?

JEFFS: He puts on a front like he’s a very nice man, a very giving man, very happy. But underneath all that, he’s very dark and very evil. And he will do anything to hide himself and, you know, get away from all these charges. And so all I can say to everyone out there is just keep your eye out open for him because, you know, he’s very sly.

COOPER: And what is the appeal for those who believe in him? I mean, I guess a lot of people grew up with him. And so it’s just all they know. But what is the attraction, the belief system? What is it that you feel, when you’re in that, that makes, you know, one better than people who aren’t in it?

JEFFS: Well, basically, what we are taught since we were little is that we were the true church and always the true church. And we got taught over and over and over, kind of like you’d, you know, brainwashing somebody, that perfect obedience to them is what you do no matter what, and you do not question anything they say. And so growing up, you just — you just believed it, and that was the way it was.

COOPER: You know, and I’ve said this a couple times, but I just find it shocking that this has gone on in the United States of America in this day and age, you know, in a place that’s clearly visible on a map and now that everyone knows about it — Brent if you would just stick around with us, we’re going to talk to you again early on in the next hour. We’re also, tomorrow night’s show, actually I’ll be in Salt Lake City, Utah. We’re going to look deeper into the secretive world of Warren Jeffs’ sect and see what we can find out. Coming up, we’ll talk more with Brent.

And also, another story, keeping them honest tonight, not every state is equal in the eyes of Washington. Coming up, we’re going to look at one state that may be getting more than its fair share of your tax dollars.
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CNN / Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, USA
May 9, 2006
Anderson Cooper

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday May 10, 2006.
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