LAS VEGAS (AP) – A federal judge on Monday broadened the legal tug-of-war over cash, computers and other materials seized from a vehicle during the southern Nevada arrest of polygamist church leader Warren Jeffs.
In a quick decision, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones said two other parties may join the government and Jeff’s lawyers in arguing the civil case – the United Effort Plan Trust, which holds $110 million in Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints property, and a former Jeffs follower who won a $338,000 judgment from Jeffs after being fired from his job.
Lawyers for Jeffs did not oppose the motion.
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The judge did not address questions about the materials, which have been held by the federal government since they were seized from a Cadillac Escalade during Jeffs’ arrest Aug. 28 outside Las Vegas. Police reported seizing $54,000 in cash, letters and other papers, four laptop computers, 15 cell phones, and other items, including wigs. The contents of the letters and information on computers has not been made public.
“He didn’t deal with the merits of the sealing or who gets access,” said Jeffrey L. Shields, a Salt Lake City-based lawyer for the United Effort Plan Trust. “He just granted intervention.”
Jeffs 51, the leader of the FLDS, remains in a Utah jail pending an April trial on two felony charges of rape as an accomplice stemming from allegations he arranged the 2001 marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her cousin.
Lawyers Richard Wright and Margaret Stanish, representing Jeffs, declined comment outside court.
Wright contends in court documents that the information is “sacred and confidential” because it includes matters of church doctrine and private communications between Jeffs and his followers.
Lawyer Bruce Wisan, representing the trust, wants to know if Jeffs’ papers and electronic records will lead to church assets that rightfully belong to the trust and should benefit all current and former church members.
A Utah judge made Wisan overseer of the trust in 2005 after finding Jeffs and other church leaders were fleecing it for personal gain. The trust is comprised of nearly all the property in Hildale, Colorado City, Ariz., and British Columbia, where church members live in assigned housing.
Lawyers for Shem Fischer, the former Jeffs follower awaiting payment after winning a court judgment last May, said the documents “may shed more information as to where (church) assets have been hidden, in what form they are held and where they are held.”
In 2002, Fischer sued Jeffs, the church and a church-controlled cabinet company, for religious discrimination. Fischer said he was fired after he left the FLDS faith. He won a default judgment and now wants to collect the balance of what he is owed.
No date was immediately set for arguments about whether to release the seized evidence.