Law enforcement officers described the atmosphere in the town as “tense.”
“I sense that people are wound pretty tight right now,” Washington County (Utah) Sheriff Kirk Smith said Tuesday.
“People weren’t exactly waiting for us with open arms in the front yard,” Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City. “There’s an awful lot of fences that have been built.”
Goddard said his staff tried to serve Arizona grand jury subpoenas at City Hall and the town marshal’s office and found no one there.
“In the middle of the week no one is in City Hall,” he said. “They were avoiding us.”
Goddard was in town to meet with law enforcement from Utah and Arizona about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its fugitive prophet, Warren Jeffs, who was put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list on Saturday.
In addition to Goddard and Smith, the meeting included Mohave County (Ariz.) Sheriff Tom Sheehan, polygamy investigator Gary Engels, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap, representatives of Arizona’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council and Bruce Wisan, the Utah court-appointed special fiduciary of the United Effort Plan trust.
They discussed a variety of issues, including the hunt for Jeffs, problems with police officers in the polygamous border towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, and the financial problems of the UEP.
The trust is the $110 million financial arm of the FLDS church, which owns businesses and property in the two communities. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff contended in the past that Jeffs used the UEP to reward or punish followers. The attorney general petitioned last year to take control of the trust, and a special fiduciary was appointed to oversee it.
Last week, 12 letters were sent to prominent people in the two communities, urging them to pay their property taxes or face eviction. On Tuesday, Wisan said five parcels of land in Colorado City had their property taxes paid, bringing in a total of $63,000. On seven parcels in Hildale, Wisan is instructing his lawyers to file a notice with the courts giving the residents five days to pay the taxes or get out.
“I’ve got another 12 we’re looking at. They should go out either tomorrow or the day after,” Wisan said.
Since the special fiduciary took control of the trust, some of the buildings on the property have disappeared. However, a grain elevator system that vanished months ago mysteriously reappeared Monday night.
“It’s about 40 yards from where it was,” Wisan said. “It’s not in its entirety. The big part, the expensive part is there.”
Wisan gave Goddard and his staff a tour of Colorado City. At the meeting, Goddard pushed for a joint federal, state and local task force to capture Jeffs. Smith said he did not feel a task force was necessary.
“I would rather this stay a local law enforcement issue and see us take care of this problem ourselves,” the sheriff said in an interview. “I realize we’ve been dealing with this for a time and not had any success. With Warren on the top 10 list, hopefully that will give us what we need to take him into custody. If that doesn’t work then we step it up a notch.”
Jeffs is wanted on Utah and Arizona charges alleging he arranged plural marriages of underage girls.
Salt Lake City attorney Rod Parker, who represented Jeffs and the FLDS church from 1990 to 2004, told the News Tuesday Parker that to call Jeffs an “evil mastermind” reflects a misunderstanding of the polygamous communities.
“My impression of him, he’s intellectual. He’s smart. He is very religious,” Parker said. “Definitely, he’s all about religion and he’s sincere about that. He’s not just pretending to be about that.”
He said the followers “feel under siege. They feel alienated. They feel that the government is out of their minds, and it’s unreasonable.”