FLDS: Warren Jeffs seen in Arizona?

Authorities believe fugitive Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs has recently been in the polygamous border town of Colorado City, Ariz., performing more child-bride marriages.

“I’ve heard from a number of different sources who said he’s been here,” Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told the Deseret Morning News Friday. “They said he’s performed marriages, and (they) pointed out a mobile home they said was the wedding chapel.”

Some living in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City said they have also heard that Jeffs has been there within the past 1 1/2 months. The Utah Attorney General’s Office said it has heard from credible sources that Jeffs continues to exercise his religious authority.

“Certainly, Mr. Jeffs has the ability to communicate with people and invite them to meet him so he can continue to perform marriages,” said Ken Wallentine, chief of law enforcement for the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

The office has been conducting an organized crime investigation into Jeffs and the FLDS Church.

In Washington, D.C., to discuss high gas prices, Goddard plans to meet with FBI brass Monday to talk about the Jeffs case. In Friday’s interview, Goddard criticized the FBI for not using state and local investigators enough in the manhunt for the polygamist leader.

“They know the territory. They know the players. They know what’s credible and what’s not,” he said. “They’re not being taken sufficient advantage of.”

Goddard praised the cooperation between Utah and Arizona authorities, saying it has helped tighten the net to capture Jeffs. But the attorney general said more cooperation and better communication is needed between the FBI and local authorities.

“I’ve seen too many examples where the lack of coordination has been a benefit to Mr. Jeffs and his efforts to stay on the lam,” he said.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office said it has had “tremendous” communication with the FBI’s Salt Lake City office.

“With Warren Jeffs in particular, I can tell you we’ve been informed, we’ve been consulted,” Wallentine said Friday. “We’ve had leads, we’ve shared them and worked them together.”

Wallentine noted that Arizona is under a different FBI field office. Calls to the FBI’s Phoenix office were not returned Friday. The FBI’s Salt Lake City office declined to comment on Goddard’s remarks.

Others say it appears the FBI has taken a heightened interest in Jeffs since the polygamist leader was added to the agency’s Ten Most Wanted list last month. FBI Director Robert Mueller was in Salt Lake City Wednesday and was briefed on the manhunt efforts.

“Since Warren has made it to top 10 status, the FBI seems to really be actively involved now,” said Sam Brower, a private investigator looking into the FLDS Church for lawyers suing the polygamous group. “They’ve really kicked it in gear, and it’s good to see that happening.”

Sources told the Deseret Morning News the FBI has been investigating Jeffs for crimes other than those with which he’s already been charged. Jeffs, 50, faces criminal charges in Utah and Arizona, accusing him of forcing teenage girls into polygamous marriages with older men. Federal prosecutors have filed charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution against him. A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to Jeffs’ arrest.

Goddard said he believes Jeffs continues to stay on the move, maintaining his power base by continuing to perform marriages involving faithful followers.

“I’ve heard a lot of statements that he’s still personally performing marriages,” the attorney general said.

Meanwhile, the man placed in charge of the FLDS Church’s financial arm is in Canada touring the church’s property there. Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed special fiduciary of the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust, is in the FLDS enclave of Bountiful, British Columbia.

“I just need to see the property,” Wisan said. “It’s hard to make judgments on the thing without actually having been there.”

Wisan is being shown around the community by Winston Blackmore, one of the ex-leaders of the FLDS Church. When Blackmore was ousted by Warren Jeffs, about half the FLDS faithful in Bountiful left with him.

In 2005, a Utah judge took control of the UEP Trust after allegations that Jeffs and his followers were fleecing the $110 million financial empire. Wisan has been pushing the FLDS communities to pay their property taxes, despite an edict from Jeffs telling his followers to resist. Recently, Wisan sent a letter to people living on UEP land, dispelling rumors and answering questions about property taxes. Those letters went unheeded.

“One of my men reported to me the post office floor was littered with my letters,” he said.

While in Canada, Wisan said he will attempt to meet with FLDS leadership still loyal to Jeffs in an effort to push the property tax issue. Blackmore has begun trying to raise money to pay some of the taxes.

This weekend, Blackmore will host a conference of sorts for fundamentalists in Bountiful. In an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News, he characterized it as a “get together.”

“We plan on a rodeo, a cowboy program and dance,” Blackmore wrote. “And, of course, a meeting or two.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Deseret Morning News, USA
June 10, 2006
Ben Winslow

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