Tug-of-war over trove of Warren Jeffs evidence

Federal authorities are trying to keep their hands on evidence seized by the FBI when Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs was captured.

In an unusual move, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah asked a Nevada federal judge to let three of its lawyers handle the evidence battle. A motion was filed in federal court in Nevada on Tuesday and obtained by the Deseret Morning News.

On Friday, a federal judge in Las Vegas granted their request.

Jeffs’ defense lawyers want seized documents, letters and other papers returned, saying they are protected by the FLDS leader’s right to freedom of religion and clergy-communicant privilege.

“These records include confidential religious writings and teachings of the FLDS, as well as privileged communications with FLDS members,” Jeffs defense lawyer Richard Wright wrote in an emergency motion filed in Las Vegas’ federal court in September.

The federal government disagrees.

“We have an interest in the Nevada case, and we are working to protect what could be evidence in our case,” said U.S. Attorney for Utah spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch.

Federal prosecutors in Utah have filed an unlawful flight to avoid prosecution warrant against Jeffs and have threatened to seek a grand-jury indictment should he ever be granted bail. He is currently being held in Hurricane’s Purgatory Jail in isolation.

Jeffs was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list until he was arrested in August during a traffic stop outside Las Vegas. Among the items seized by federal authorities were more than $50,000 in cash, books, computers, papers and recording devices.

The court-appointed special fiduciary of the FLDS Church’s United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust is demanding that a federal judge allow him to become involved in the battle, too. In papers filed Wednesday, Bruce Wisan said no one has objected to his request.

Wisan has told the Deseret Morning News that the evidence seized by the FBI could be a “mother lode” of information about the FLDS Church, its leaders and the UEP Trust.

A judge took control of the UEP Trust in 2005 after accusations emerged that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders had been siphoning money from the $110 million trust. The UEP Trust controls homes, businesses and land in the polygamous communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Jeffs is charged in St. George’s 5th District Court with two counts of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He is accused of arranging a child-bride marriage. Jeffs is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 21.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday November 4, 2006.
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