SALT LAKE CITY — A federal grand jury indicted the leader of a polygamous sect Wednesday, accusing him of fleeing to avoid prosecution on Utah sex charges.
Jeffs also faces trial in southern Utah in April on charges of rape as an accomplice for his alleged role in the ceremonial marriage of a teenage girl to an older cousin. In Arizona, he faces felony sex charges in Mohave County, Ariz. for his alleged role in arranging underage marriages for some of his followers.
A telephone message left for his attorney, Wally Bugden, was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Jeffs is president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members practice polygamy and live on the Utah-Arizona border. He disappeared from public life in 2004 after lawsuits filed against him and his church alleged abuses of some members. The criminal charges in Arizona and Utah followed in 2005 and 2006.
To help in the search for Jeffs, federal prosecutors filed an arrest warrant against him in April 2006.
Federal charges tied to such warrants typically are dropped once a suspect is caught and transferred to state authorities. But with Jeffs, “we felt like if there were ever a time to pursue a defendant … this was it,” said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman.
The federal charge carries a maximum punishment of five years in federal prison.