Authorities seek indicted polygamist sect members
SAN ANGELO, Texas – Texas authorities began looking Wednesday for five indicted followers of jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, men accused of sexual assault of a child, bigamy and failing to report child abuse.
“Our office does have warrants in hand and indictments in hand,” said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, whose tiny western Texas department will work with Texas Rangers and prosecutors to arrest the men.
A grand jury indicted Jeffs and four followers Tuesday on charges of felony sexual assault of a child. Another was indicted for failing to report child abuse. One of the followers was also indicted for bigamy, but the identities of the men and details of the accusations remained under seal until the men are arrested.
Jeffs, already convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice and awaiting trial in Arizona on other charges related to underage marriages, is accused of assaulting a girl in Texas in January 2005.
Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office is acting as the special prosecutor in the case, vowed Tuesday that authorities would make an aggressive effort to find the accused members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has traditionally been centered around the Arizona-Utah line.
Members are often nomadic, moving between jobs and church member-controlled sites. They bought the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado five years ago but have additional residences scattered around the West and Canada.
FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop said Wednesday that law enforcement officials had not yet disclosed who they were looking for or tried to enter the ranch, but he said members would cooperate.
Jessop said he believes the criminal prosecutions are designed to try to justify the since-discredited decision to place more than 400 children from the ranch into foster care and to justify the raid itself — which was prompted by calls now believed to be a hoax.
Catching 5 from West Texas polygamist ranch may require wide net
AUSTIN – Authorities began their pursuit Wednesday of five members of a West Texas polygamist sect accused of committing crimes against children but acknowledged the men – some of whom are believed to be influential elders who married underage girls – could be difficult to find.
By Wednesday evening, no arrests had been made, and state and county law enforcement officials said they had no timetable for completing them. Officials close to the investigation said the names weren’t being released because the suspects are considered a flight risk – and some of the men haven’t been seen in Texas since this spring’s raid on the compound.
“They could literally be anywhere,” said Sam Brower, a Utah private investigator who has worked on polygamy cases. “They have unlimited resources and thousands of people willing to help them hide.”
State law enforcement officials acknowledged that the search could lead them to the polygamist group’s headquarters on the Utah-Arizona border, or even outside of the country. Polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs – the only one of the men identified by authorities when the indictments were released Tuesday – was on the run for more than a year before he was apprehended in 2006.
The day after a grand jury brought sexual assault indictments against Mr. Jeffs and five followers, the Eldorado sect’s de facto leader said the men would turn themselves in – if only the state would identify them.
“If they tell us who they are looking for, they will step up to the allegations,” Willie Jessop said. “What we’re afraid is that they won’t tell us the names, and then they’ll try to justify their actions by staging some hocus-pocus raid.
Mr. Jeffs, who at one time was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, has already been convicted of similar charges in Utah. The 52-year-old is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on separate charges.
Attorney General Greg Abbott said Tuesday that he plans to extradite Mr. Jeffs to Texas, but the sect prophet might not be moved until after he stands trial in Arizona, a law enforcement official said. Even if he is convicted in Texas, Mr. Jeffs would have to return to Utah to finish his sentence there.
In April, child welfare investigators obtained an order to seize 440 children and about two dozen women from the Yearning for Zion ranch over allegations that the sect permitted a culture of sexual abuse and “spiritual” marriages between young girls and older men. The judge’s order was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court months later, and most children were returned to their parents.
On Tuesday, the attorney general’s office presented evidence against several sect members to a Schleicher County grand jury for the second time in two months – and left 10 hours later with charges against six men.
Texas still looking for 5 indicted FLDS men
ELDORADO, Texas — The search continues for five members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church who were indicted by a grand jury here.
“No one has been arrested yet,” Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said Wednesday.
The names of the men will remain sealed by court order until they are in custody.
A Texas attorney who represents several men from the Yearning for Zion Ranch expressed frustration to the Deseret News on Wednesday that Texas authorities won’t reveal the names of those indicted. The attorney, who asked not to be identified, said members of the polygamous sect would be willing to surrender if they knew they were indicted. But as it stands, Texas Rangers will have to arrest them before attorneys can even get involved.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said warrants have been issued and told the Deseret News he believes the wanted men have left the area.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency that received heavy criticism after taking hundreds of children from the YFZ Ranch in April, issued a statement saying it feels some vindication by the indictments.
“The indictment seems to indicate CPS was correct in its belief that some children at the ranch had been sexually abused, and all children are at risk in a community in which adults do not take a stand against the abuse taking place in their homes,” said Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins.
Child welfare workers and law enforcement seized the children based upon a phone call alleging abuse. They were all returned after two Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly. The call that sparked the raid is still being investigated as a hoax.
Ironically, parenting classes the FLDS parents were ordered to attend by Judge Barbara Walther as part of the condition for them to be returned to their families were scheduled to begin Saturday. Crimmins said the CPS parenting classes will be held throughout the state.
FLDS: More indictments likely for sect
SAN ANGELO — More indictments against members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are likely as investigators pore over mountains of evidence seized from the polygamous sect’s Schleicher County ranch, said one of the case’s lead investigators Wednesday.
A day after a Schleicher County grand jury returned seven indictments against six members of the FLDS, Texas Ranger Capt. L.C. Wilson said the investigation is by no means over.
“I think I could safely say that,” Wilson said when asked if more indictments could be expected. “There’s certainly other persons of interest and other suspects in this case.”
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