Wanted: Armed and Dangerous
A massive stone temple jutting from the crest of an oak-and-juniper knoll pierces the serenity of the broad horizon of the seductively beautiful Texas hill country.
The 90-foot-high edifice is topped with a cupola and buttressed by a grand sweeping staircase leading to the main entrance. Circular columns resembling towers from medieval castles anchor each corner of the church, giving it an imposing and foreboding stance.
The gleaming-white cathedral is getting built at breakneck speed by a platoon of religious fanatics in a race to beat the fire and brimstone they are certain will soon engulf their world.
Outsiders are forbidden to come near the temple that marks the center of a sprawling religious compound rapidly emerging on 1,600 acres of arid soil near the small west Texas town of Eldorado.
It is here that fugitive polygamist Prophet Warren Steed Jeffs and a select group of his most faithful servants are preparing to make what could be the religious leader's final stand.
The 49-year-old Jeffs is the ironfisted ruler of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a breakaway sect of the Salt Lake City-based mainstream Mormon Church. The FLDS still embraces polygamy as the central tenet of the religion. Indeed, Jeffs has as many as 70 wives, including a number of women who were once married to his father, the late Rulon Jeffs, who preceded Warren as prophet.
For more than 70 years, the fundamentalist Mormon polygamist society has been based in the adjoining towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. But now Jeffs and the polygamist zealots who worship him are building the new FLDS headquarters in Texas, which they call YFZ, short for "Yearning for Zion."
What makes Jeffs so powerful is that he has almost complete control over his 10,000-member congregation. Dissenters are dealt with swiftly and harshly.
"Warren thinks he's Jesus. The people think he's Jesus," says Winston Blackmore, who was bishop of the FLDS community in Bountiful, British Columbia, until Jeffs excommunicated him from the church in 2002. Blackmore spoke to New Times in an extensive interview in Bountiful and nearby Creston.
Though Warren Jeffs is believed among his faithful to be God's messenger on Earth, in the secular world, he is an accused pedophile on the FBI's most-wanted list who has impregnated at least two underage girls. Authorities believe he could have operated as a sexual predator for more than two decades, since his activities only became monitored closely by law enforcement after New Times began reporting on sexual atrocities and financial malfeasance among Mormon polygamists along the Arizona-Utah border in early 2003.
The New Times investigative reports brought worldwide media attention to the polygamist colony north of the Grand Canyon and south of Zion National Park. The series inspired Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and Governor Janet Napolitano, along with Mohave County, Arizona, officials, to install a justice center in Colorado City that, for the first time in the community's history, employs law enforcement not controlled by the FLDS.
After the stories put a spotlight on activities in the fundamentalist Mormon stronghold, Warren Jeffs suspended all regular Sunday church services in August 2003, and started what has now become a steady exodus of church leadership and church-controlled businesses from Colorado City and Hildale. Thousands of polygamists still live in the two towns, but it is clear that Jeffs means to make west Texas the religion's new capital.
Jeffs has not been seen publicly since before he was indicted June 9 by a Mohave County grand jury on multiple counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. The charges stem from his performing the "spiritual" marriages of three underage girls to already married men. A federal arrest warrant was issued for Jeffs for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on June 27, and the FBI named him one of its most notorious fugitives in August. Arizona has posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to Jeffs' arrest.
Mounting evidence suggests that Jeffs is hiding, or has hidden, from federal authorities at the YFZ compound about 180 miles northwest of San Antonio.
"If I was to zero out the most likely place where we would find him, it would be coming in and out of the temple in Eldorado," says Arizona Attorney General Goddard.
New Times' ongoing investigation of Jeffs and his followers has uncovered compelling evidence that his defiance of state and federal laws is growing bolder and more threatening, thereby increasing pressure on authorities to hunt him down. Consider:
There is a credible report that Jeffs wants to begin practicing a 19th-century Mormon doctrine calling for the ritualistic human sacrifice of "apostates" who dissent from his rules.
Colorado City employees are receiving taxpayer-funded salaries to work on secret FLDS projects.
Colorado City officials and police have regularly used municipal phones to maintain close communication with FLDS leaders in Canada and elsewhere, raising suspicion that they are using public resources to help Jeffs avoid arrest.
A courier suspected to be on his way to Warren Jeffs with $200,000 in cash and other materials was arrested October 28, indicating to authorities that the FLDS has a network in place to support Jeffs while he is on the run.
The discovery of Colorado City power-generation equipment at the Yearning for Zion ranch is particularly significant because it provides law enforcement probable cause to obtain a search warrant to enter the compound to look for stolen property.
Such an incursion by authorities into the heart of the Texas fortress, however, is fraught with danger. Jeffs is known to have a cadre of armed bodyguards and a legion of young men eager to impress their prophet. (Only Jeffs can award these young men their initial "blessing" in the church -- the first of the at least three wives they need to enter the highest realm of fundamentalist Mormon heaven.)
Any attempt to arrest Jeffs could escalate into a violent confrontation that would endanger the lives of women and children living at YFZ.
Despite the danger to others, Jeffs seems increasingly intent on creating circumstances that could lead to a bloody confrontation, perhaps, authorities believe, so he can follow in the footsteps of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith and achieve martyrdom. Smith was shot and killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844.
Gary Engels, a special investigator for the Mohave County Attorney's Office, has spent more than a year building criminal cases against Jeffs and his followers. His investigation led to last summer's indictment of Jeffs and eight other FLDS men on charges of sexual misconduct with a minor. Seven of the men charged voluntarily surrendered to authorities, and one was arrested without incident.
Only Jeffs has refused to give up.
"Warren is doing everything possible to attract the attention of law enforcement and force a confrontation," Engels says.
David Allred, one of Warren Jeffs' top aides, acquired the 1,600-acre Texas ranch property for about $1.3 million -- more than two times the market rate -- in late 2003.
Allred told Eldorado residents he intended to build a hunting lodge.
That was a lie.
Instead, church members illegally shot most of the game on the ranch. Blood dripping from the back of a truck attracted a game warden's attention, which led to a citation. It was a rocky start for what continues to be a tense relationship between the FLDS and the local community.
By early 2004, FLDS workers began transforming the ranch into a polygamist spiritual haven that can double as a heavily reinforced fortress to protect Warren Jeffs from arrest.
Laborers are toiling around the clock to construct a new community that will be as self-sufficient as possible. Workers have constructed several large warehouses, built a cement plant and dug a rock quarry where giant saws cut limestone blocks day and night to be used on the temple.
Workers are also installing electric, gas and sewer systems. They have completed construction on a dozen log homes, including a 29,000-square-foot mansion for the prophet. (Jeffs and his huge immediate family of several hundred occupied an even larger dwelling in Hildale.) Gardens have been tilled and orchards planted.
All this work is in addition to building the imposing temple ringed by a 12-foot-high, reinforced block wall.
Only a handful of county and state officials -- including Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran -- have been allowed to set foot inside YFZ. New Times' request for a tour of the property was rejected by Merril Jessop, a top FLDS official.
"We're not interested," Jessop said before hanging up the phone.
A locked gate prevents anyone from traversing the milelong, narrow dirt road leading to the YFZ property from a county highway. The ranch is patrolled 24 hours a day by security forces equipped with all-terrain vehicles and sophisticated radios that scramble communications to prevent eavesdropping. Former FLDS members say security team members are known to carry concealed weapons.
The only entrance to the compound cuts across an easement through a neighboring private ranch -- one of half a dozen surrounding the compound. The perimeter of private ranches creates a virtual moat around YFZ, keeping outsiders, including law enforcement, from easily accessing the property.
More important, the ring of ranches keeps underage girls -- destined to become the plural wives of Jeffs and his select handful of men in the FLDS "priesthood" -- inside the compound. It would be a long, lonely walk to the outside world from YFZ. And even if a girl tried to leave, it is unlikely she could flee without detection.
"You can't approach that ranch from any direction without being seen," says Randy Mankin, the editor and publisher of the community's weekly newspaper, the Eldorado Success.
Mankin and his wife, Kathy, have seized on the biggest story to hit Schleicher County in decades. Their family-owned paper and Web site have carefully documented construction at YFZ with hundreds of aerial photographs. Local residents eagerly buy the paper every Thursday to read the latest update on FLDS developments.
Many Eldorado residents expressed concern about the polygamist compound, about three miles outside of town.
"They got off on the wrong foot when they came in here lying about what they were intending," Jim Runge, a local entertainer and satirist, says about the polygamists. "We can't believe anything they say."
One owner of a neighboring ranch who asked not to be identified says the community is outraged that the FLDS has settled in their midst.
"We hate that they are here, and we are very concerned about the welfare of those children and young girls out there," the ranch owner says. "I just wish the courts and law enforcement at the state and federal level could address the situation."
But most local elected officials are cautious about saying anything negative about the town's FLDS neighbors. The April 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian sect in nearby Waco that left about 76 people dead is on their minds.
"[The polygamists] have not bothered a soul," says Schleicher County Justice of the Peace James Doyle, one of the few public officials to have entered the YFZ compound. Doyle was allowed inside to handle official paperwork when one of Warren Jeffs' wives died of cancer.
As long as YFZ residents do not begin to register to vote in large numbers or apply for welfare, Doyle says, their presence is unlikely to generate huge opposition from local residents. Besides, Doyle says, there is little anyone can do to stop construction at the compound; there are no county building and zoning ordinances affecting the property.
At the same time, Doyle says he is aware of the FLDS practice of underage "spiritual" marriages, but until victims step forward and swear out complaints, there is nothing he can do to stop them.
Eldorado Mayor John Nickolauk has extended a friendly handshake to the FLDS, although he, too, wishes they had never come to the area.
"If I had a way, I would snap my fingers and they would be gone. But they are here, so let's try to make the best of it," says the retired Air Force pilot and Vietnam veteran.
Nickolauk saw a financial opportunity for the town and signed a contract to have YFZ dump its sewage at Eldorado's treatment plant. The mayor says the polygamists have been excellent customers for the city.
"I wish everybody was like them," he says. "We give them the rules, and they obey them."
Like the town, the county and some local businesses are starting to reap substantial economic benefits. YFZ already is the county's sixth-largest property taxpayer, with a $200,000 bill due later this year.
Dan Griffin, owner of Griffin Oil Company, a wholesale fuels distributor, is reaping a windfall from thousands of dollars a week in sales of diesel fuel to YFZ. The fuel is used to power tractors, generators, rock saws and other heavy equipment eerily operating around the clock in the remote area. Griffin complained that the community newspaper has been sensationalizing FLDS members' presence.
"They haven't made any offense against anybody in this community as far as I'm aware," Griffin says.
Schleicher County Commissioner Matt Brown, who owns property adjacent to YFZ, is one of those who is highly suspicious of the polygamists. Brown says he is very concerned that Jeffs is on the FBI's most-wanted list and hopes the prophet is soon captured.
Brown says there needs to be far more cooperation between Arizona and Texas authorities in the hunt for Jeffs. He was particularly critical of Mohave County's failure to notify the Schleicher County Sheriff's Office about the grand jury indictments against Jeffs. The local media reported the news before county officials knew what had happened.
Brown says Sheriff Doran, who has only four deputies, could have set up surveillance around YFZ and might have been able to arrest Jeffs without a major confrontation.
Plural marriage, which the mainstream Mormon Church abandoned in 1890 as a condition for Utah to gain statehood, is what drives the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church requires men to obtain at least three wives to reach the "celestial kingdom," where it is believed that they and their harems will live as gods and goddesses forever. The FLDS prophet is the only person who can arrange and perform multiple marriages.
As prophet, Warren Jeffs expanded his power to include stripping men of their wives and children and tossing them out of the church if they questioned anything he said or did. He permits no appeals and never explains his actions. In the past two years, Jeffs has excommunicated dozens of men, reassigning their wives and children to men he considers worthy.
Most of the time, women go along with his edicts because they believe their salvation is dependent on their marriage to a man in Jeffs' priesthood.
The fanaticism instilled by Warren Jeffs into FLDS members cannot be overstated. Jeffs has so much power over the men that even when he kicks them out of the church, many continue to "tithe" tens of thousands of dollars a year to him in the faint hope of reinstatement.
"That's the only way they can get back in is to give money," says FLDS historian Benjamin Bistline, who quit the church more than a decade ago over a property dispute.
It is not uncommon for excommunicated men who lose their families (known as "eunuchs") to turn over their assets -- which in some cases can be worth millions of dollars -- to Jeffs and slip away silently to begin a long and typically fruitless process of repentance.
"My brother Lee was just kicked out," says Bistline, referring to F. Lee Bistline, who served on the Colorado City school board for more than 40 years.
"He just stuck his tail between his legs and slunk off like a wounded dog," says Benjamin Bistline. "He left his wives and kids and everything."
With no check on his power, Jeffs appears to be inching closer to reinstituting some of the most radical aspects of early 19th-century Mormon doctrine, including "blood atonement," or ritualistic human sacrifice.
A former FLDS member who left the church in April tells New Times he believes Jeffs is building a blood-atonement room in the Texas temple where sinners' throats would be slit and their bodies burned in a DNA-incinerating crematory. It is believed by strict constructionists of FLDS doctrine that this last-gasp ritual is sometimes necessary to ensure a sinner's eternal salvation.
Robert Richter says he left the church in April while he was working on a "secret project" to build computer controls for an extremely high-temperature thermostat that he now fears could be used to operate such a crematory at the temple to dispose of the remains of blood-atonement victims.
Richter says he was told to design controls to operate a thermostat that could handle temperatures up to 2,700 degrees. At that heat level, DNA is destroyed. Richter says he felt unqualified to handle such a project and wondered why YFZ officials did not hire a licensed specialist to do the work.
Richter says he was deeply troubled when he was told his work on the thermostat controls was to be kept secret. Richter, who was working in Colorado City, says he knew the thermostat was to be used in conjunction with a furnace, but he was not allowed to speak to other FLDS technicians working in Texas about the project.
The secrecy disturbed him to the point that he decided to leave the FLDS. It was a monumental decision, especially since he had a young wife and an infant to support.
Quitting the FLDS meant he must leave his church-controlled city job that paid $31,000 a year -- a relatively high salary in Colorado City.
"When a religion goes wrong, you have to get out," Richter explains.
Soon after leaving the church, Richter says he started reflecting on Jeffs' numerous sermons calling for a return to blood atonement.
"Warren has been teaching for a long time that those who are guilty of adultery must be blood-atoned," he says. "Warren's even made comments that we have got to figure out a way that we can start doing blood atonement so we can take care of these people who have committed adultery so they can be saved."
"They have asked Warren, 'When are we able to get blood-atoned so we can be saved?'" says Richter, one of the few FLDS men to earn a college degree, in his case a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of Utah.
Though FLDS doctrine calls for those who die in good standing with the church to be buried, Jeffs has said that FLDS members who commit certain sins should be cremated. Jeffs wanted a young FLDS woman living in Canada, who had left her husband and was later killed in a car accident, to be cremated.
At the time, Winston Blackmore was still the FLDS bishop in Canada.
"Warren was very cold about it," Blackmore recalls.
Warren Jeffs' father, Rulon, was still the FLDS prophet then. But the elder Jeffs had suffered several strokes and had trouble communicating. Warren had assumed day-to-day control of the FLDS and claimed he was acting as his father's interpreter. Blackmore says he rejected Warren's suggestion that a cremation be conducted instead of a traditional funeral.
Moreover, Blackmore says, "I never invited Warren to speak at the funeral. I just left him be."
Blackmore's refusal to go along with Jeffs' call for a cremation further damaged Blackmore's already-troubled relationship with the prophet-to-be.
"Our relationship went from bad to worse after that," Blackmore says. Rulon Jeffs died in September 2002, and Warren seized complete control of the FLDS. Not long after that, the new prophet excommunicated the bishop who had openly defied him.
Warren Jeffs' harsh religious doctrine combined with the tremendous financial pressure he puts on FLDS members to contribute money to the church has not diminished his strong support among polygamists. The public got a glimpse of the depth of that support late last month when the FBI arrested Jeffs' younger brother.
Seth Steed Jeffs was taken into custody after a routine traffic stop near Pueblo, Colorado, when local sheriff's deputies found money and supplies that the FBI believes were being transported to Warren.
During the search of Seth Jeffs' late-model Ford Excursion, deputies discovered $200,000 in cash, seven pre-paid cell phones, pre-paid credit cards and about 700 letters from church members addressed to "the Prophet" or "Warren Jeffs."
According to a Pueblo County Sheriff's Office report, deputies discovered paperwork indicating that Warren Jeffs and Annette B. Jeffs, presumably one of his wives, owe the Internal Revenue Service $69,000 in back taxes. Deputies found "several envelopes containing hundreds of business cards" from supporters throughout the country.
In addition, deputies found a glass container fashioned into a donation jar. Affixed to the container was a photograph of Warren Jeffs and the words "Pennies for the Prophet." The photo is identical to the one on the FBI's most-wanted poster for the Prophet.
After changing his story several times, Seth Jeffs told federal agents that he was an FLDS "messenger" and that he was delivering the cash and materials from Colorado City to a bishop at YFZ. Seth Jeffs told police he had been living in Longmont, Colorado, for the past three months.
Seth Jeffs refused to disclose where his brother might be hiding. He also told federal agents that neither he nor any other FLDS member would ever assist law enforcement in locating Warren Jeffs.
"It would be stupid to tell anyone where he is because he would get caught," Seth Jeffs is quoted in an FBI affidavit as saying. The letters addressed to Warren Jeffs could prove useful to authorities because some may contain financial payments intended for Jeffs and the names of FLDS contributors.
"These people will be very concerned," says excommunicated bishop Blackmore. "Particularly if they put in money. That implicates them in a crime."
Such information could give police sufficient evidence to bring charges of providing assistance to a federal fugitive to all of the FLDS members involved.
"There's a lot of very valuable information in addition to the 700 letters," says Arizona AG Goddard. "We got a lucky break."
Seth Jeffs was charged with a federal felony of concealing a wanted person from arrest and was released November 7 from a Denver detention facility on a $25,000 property bond.
In a November 3 detention hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Brimmer urged U.S. Magistrate Craig Shaffer to deny Seth Jeffs bail. Brimmer argued that if Warren Jeffs has the ability to evade authorities with help from church members, so could Seth Jeffs.
But Shaffer agreed with public defender Edward Pluss, who said Seth Jeffs should not be compared to his brother. Pluss said Seth has no criminal record, and even if convicted of the charges against him, would serve no more than 10 months in prison.
"There's no real evidence that he himself is a flight risk," Pluss maintained.
While Seth Jeffs has been released from federal custody for the time being (an arraignment hearing is scheduled November 17), his troubles with the FLDS community may have only just begun.
The younger Jeffs and his traveling companion, Nathaniel Allred, were cited by the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office with solicitation of a prostitute and prostitution, respectively. Allred, who is Seth and Warren Jeffs' nephew, told police he was paid $5,000 by Seth Jeffs for "sexual companionship."
Allred was "shaking uncontrollably and sweating" after deputies pulled over the vehicle he was driving that had just exited Interstate 25 and was traveling westbound on U.S. 50, according to police reports. Seth Jeffs was in the back of the vehicle reclining on a mattress.
Seth Jeffs refused deputies' request to search the vehicle. The deputy then called out a narcotics dog. Seth Jeffs then told deputies "he did not want us to go inside the vehicle because he had a lot of money inside the vehicle and did not want it to get stolen."
Seth Jeffs said he had given Nathaniel Allred $5,000 for computer work Allred had done for him.
But when deputies interviewed Allred, he denied being paid the money for any computer work.
"I asked Nathaniel what kind of relationship he had with Seth and he put his head down," the deputy's report states. "I asked him if he had a sexual relationship with Seth and he said, 'Yes.'"
Seth Jeffs denied he was having sex with Allred, but Nathaniel assured deputies he was telling the truth.
The gay sex scandal is rocking the FLDS community. Men may have multiple wives, but homosexuality is forbidden by the church. In fact, Seth Jeffs has at least three wives.
"This is the biggest scandal that's come down the pike in a long time," says former FLDS member and longtime Colorado City resident Isaac Wyler.
If the prostitution allegations are true, Seth Jeffs would be stripped of his wives and children and be kicked out of the FLDS under church doctrine. That is, unless his brother weighs in and somehow saves him. Warren could claim, for instance, that the charges are trumped up in an attempt to discredit him with church faithful.
The misdemeanor prostitution citation against Seth comes 16 months after Warren Jeffs was named a defendant in a lawsuit filed in Salt Lake City by nephew Brent Jeffs, who alleged that Warren and two other uncles repeatedly sodomized him when he was a young boy.
Warren Jeffs, on the lam by then, never appeared in court to answer the civil charges. His failure to appear stunned his excommunicated rival, Winston Blackmore.
"What would have been wrong with [Warren Jeffs'] standing up to the Brent Jeffs allegation and saying, 'I didn't do that'?" Blackmore asks.
Of course, Blackmore says, this would only have been possible if Warren had not committed the assaults.
Unlike Warren Jeffs, who has long refused to meet with the press on any issue, Blackmore is more approachable. In the recent interview, Blackmore appeared relaxed and exhibited a wry sense of humor. He asked when New Times was going to do a story about polygamists in France.
"There's 100,000 of them in Paris alone," he said, grinning over a breakfast of steak and eggs.
Blackmore's 2002 excommunication created deep divisions in the Canadian FLDS community. About 600 of the 1,000 fundamentalists in Canada sided with Blackmore, while the rest have stayed loyal to Warren Jeffs.
Blackmore has become a vocal critic of Jeffs' leadership, occasionally lambasting Jeffs and those loyal to him in the rival group's newsletter, The North Star Chronicles.
Blackmore says the Prophet is ruining the towns of Colorado City and Hildale by diverting countless millions of dollars to building the Texas compound.
He blames Jeffs for dividing families against each other and for stripping hundreds of women and children from their husbands and reassigning them to other men.
He says Warren Jeffs could have warded off the police investigation that led to his indictment if he would have simply stopped performing marriages of underage girls. All Jeffs had to do was wait until the girls were 18, Blackmore says, and the authorities never would have seen fit to step in.
"I don't know why this guy feels so duty-bound to defy a simple little rule," Blackmore says.
He says he has received personal assurances from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff that Utah has no intention of prosecuting polygamist families if no spiritual marriages of underage girls are involved.
Arizona has taken a similar stance in its handling of polygamist families. Arizona Attorney General Goddard says the state is focused on child abuse within the fundamentalist Mormon community, not on breaking up existing polygamist families.
Blackmore says underage marriages were uncommon during Rulon Jeffs' leadership. After Utah passed a law making it a felony for a man to marry a minor 10 years his junior, Blackmore says, Rulon Jeffs told the FLDS congregation that the church would go along. That was in 1998.
"Rulon specifically told me we are going to obey this law," Blackmore says.
But during the same church meeting, Warren Jeffs and several of his most ardent supporters rejected Rulon Jeffs' decree.
The dissidents, Blackmore says, claimed that the "devil" was speaking through the elderly prophet.
Blackmore says Warren Jeffs told the congregation at the time: "The government is not going to direct the prophet!"
Warren, Blackmore says, expects to be worshiped and demands that his followers deal harshly with any family member who does not do so.
"The Warren faithful have abandoned their family members who do not hail him as their God," Blackmore wrote in the September 2005 issue of The North Star Chronicles. "It is truly a strange day and time."
The arrest of Warren Jeffs' brother, Seth, is a significant break for law enforcement, as well as a huge embarrassment for the FLDS. But it is unlikely to stem the flow of money necessary to continue construction of the Texas compound and to keep Prophet Warren Jeffs in hiding.
Not only does Jeffs have the unwavering support of thousands of FLDS members, he also leads a group that has mastered tapping the public till. FLDS polygamists have been diverting millions of dollars of public assets into church coffers for decades, and that well-honed practice has continued largely unabated even though criminal investigations have been under way for more than two years.
One way this is accomplished is by having Colorado City employees do FLDS-related work while on the public payroll.
Robert Richter says he spent six months between August 2004 and April 2005 working on three different projects for the FLDS while supposedly employed by the Colorado City public works department.
"I was a city employee while working on secret projects for Warren," he says.
It was during this period that Richter says he was working on the thermostat controls for what he believes is the crematory at the Texas temple.
Richter says he also helped design and install scrambling devices for about 50 two-way radios so that outsiders could not eavesdrop on communications. The radios were sent to YFZ.
In the biggest FLDS project in which he participated while on the town payroll, Richter says he helped refurbish and install computerized control equipment on two 500-kilowatt, diesel-powered electrical generators owned by the town's electric utility.
Richter says he was told by his superiors that the generators needed to be refurbished so that they would work with power service at the Texas ranch. Two other Colorado City public employees joined him on the project.
Once the generators were overhauled, Richter says, the utility conducted a fraudulent public auction. Before the auction, he says, he was instructed to disassemble the computer controls to give the appearance that the generators needed substantial work.
The ploy worked.
Richter says potential buyers from a non-FLDS polygamist sect in nearby Centennial Park considered bidding on the generators but were discouraged when they saw what appeared to be "dilapidated" equipment. They did not know "that we had already updated them with computer technology," he says.
The generators and computer controls, which are easily worth tens of thousands of dollars, were purchased by FLDS members for an unknown price, he says.
Richter says he was very conflicted about the bid-rigging and getting paid to do work on FLDS projects while on the city's payroll.
"There were a number of times I asked [superiors], 'Is everything I'm doing legal? Is there any risk of me going to jail over any of this?'"
Richter says he was told to simply fill out his time card, that his bosses would "take care of it."
Richter quit the FLDS soon after completing the generator project. He says he did not know what happened to the generators until he was shown aerial photographs of Yearning for Zion in late October.
Richter says he believes the diversion of electric equipment from the Colorado City electric utility to YFZ also includes underground electrical cable, transformers and switching equipment. Some of the electrical equipment sent to YFZ, Richter says, appears to be materials the Colorado City utility had acquired from the city of Anaheim, California.
Lorin Fischer, director of the Colorado City power department, did not return telephone calls from New Times seeking comment.
Richter has not been the only public employee working on FLDS projects.
On October 13, New Times observed Colorado City public works employee Elmer Johnson operating a road grader on the 800-acre FLDS compound in Bountiful, British Columbia.
Johnson confirmed that he was a Colorado City employee, and when asked why he was working in Canada, he said he "was just helping out."
Winston Blackmore says Johnson's truck had been at the FLDS compound for several weeks.
Colorado City payroll and vacation records reveal that Elmer Johnson was paid by the town to work on FLDS projects in Canada. He was paid $1,494 for the week ending October 15. His leave records, meanwhile, show he had used up all his vacation days by September 30.
Colorado City public works director Dean Cooke did not return New Times' phone calls seeking some sort of explanation.
The illegal use of public resources for the benefit of FLDS projects fits a long-established pattern of misuse of public funds first uncovered by New Times in a 2003 investigation of the Colorado City Unified School District.
The articles that resulted spurred passage of a law last spring giving the state Board of Education in Arizona the authority to place the Colorado City school district into receivership, which is expected to happen in early December.
The New Times school investigation stories also triggered an ongoing criminal probe of top school district officials by the Arizona Attorney General's Office. The one-school district with about 300 students is more than $1.4 million in debt.
Colorado City school records reveal that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been diverted into private FLDS schools, which ultimately benefits Warren Jeffs and his church.
The corruption within the Colorado City town government is equally pervasive.
Former Colorado City councilman Richard Holm says the Arizona and Utah legislatures should pass laws allowing the states to temporarily take over the daily operations of the Colorado City and Hildale town governments, which, according to Holm, are controlled entirely by FLDS religious leaders.
Holm served as a Colorado City councilman from 1985 until early 2004, shortly after he was suddenly excommunicated from the FLDS by Prophet Jeffs.
"It was well understood that the entire city council would defer any and every decision to [FLDS religious leaders]," says Holm about his 19 years on the town council.
Members of the Colorado City council have never faced a contested election since they were first appointed by FLDS leaders in 1985. Only two members have left the council in that period -- Holm, and former mayor Dan Barlow, who was booted out of the FLDS in January 2004 and subsequently resigned his post.
State election laws are routinely ignored by the council. Six of the seven town council members, including Mayor Richard Allred, failed to file annual financial disclosure statements for 2004 and 2005, making it impossible to know of possible conflicts of interest with local businesses.
Outside authorities suspect there could be extensive conflicts in such a closed society where nearly everyone is related. City records, for example, show that the town council routinely awards major construction engineering contracts to JNJ Engineering, whose vice president is a nephew of Bygnal Dutson, a city council member.
JNJ awards lucrative public works construction contracts to companies controlled by FLDS members. These companies, in turn, contribute money and labor to Warren Jeffs and the church, former FLDS members say.
If a company fails to make sufficient tithes to Jeffs, its owner runs the risk of expulsion from the church.
"It's extortion," says FLDS historian Benjamin Bistline.
FLDS-related businesses are scattered about the West. The church has members who own large companies involved in trucking, sand-and-gravel operations and other construction-related enterprises. These firms generate millions of dollars a year in revenue, an untold amount of which is diverted to Warren Jeffs.
The cost of keeping Prophet Jeffs out of the hands of law enforcement and the millions of dollars getting spent on the massive construction project at the Texas compound may have something to do with the FLDS' failure to pay all of the Colorado City property taxes owed to Mohave County.
For the first time in decades, the church failed to pay its Mohave County property taxes in full and on time. The FLDS, which controls most of the land in town, has paid just $250,000 of the $550,000 in taxes due November 1 for the hundreds of homes and businesses it controls. An additional $500,000 in property taxes is due next April.
No one knows, except Warren Jeffs, whether the FLDS intends to pay the delinquent taxes. But there is little doubt that the church has the money.
"I have determined that there is definitely money available, but that money is going outside of the community," says Bruce Wisan, a Salt Lake City CPA appointed by a Utah state court to oversee the liquidation of the trust that controls the FLDS property.
(The liquidation was ordered when Warren Jeffs did not show up in court to answer claims in lawsuits brought by Brent Jeffs and other young men ousted from Colorado City-Hildale because they were seen as a threat to polygamist elders' stake in the community's young women.)
The failure to pay the property taxes comes as FLDS members in Colorado City continue to receive more than $20 million a year in state and federal aid for welfare, food stamps, public education, state-shared revenue to towns, and indigent health-care insurance premiums.
Colorado City phone records from April through July, obtained under the Arizona Public Records Law, show dozens of phone calls from the Colorado City town hall and the Colorado City Marshal's Office (the local police department) to two of Warren Jeffs' top aides in Canada -- Mac Blackmore (ousted FLDS bishop Winston Blackmore's brother) and James Oler.
The high volume of phone calls raises the possibility that Colorado City officials and police were coordinating with FLDS members in Canada to provide protection to Warren Jeffs.
Winston Blackmore says he believes Warren Jeffs occasionally stays with Mac Blackmore, and Oler, now the FLDS bishop in the area, for short periods of time before moving to other locations.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the U.S. Border Patrol say agents are on constant lookout for Jeffs.
"If he's in Canada, he's here illegally [and would] be arrested for [illegally entering Canada] and held for an immigration hearing," says RCMP Sergeant Mark Fisher.
This is in the event that Canadian Mounties can find the elusive Jeffs. He seems to have slipped in and out of various FLDS outposts without the knowledge of authorities in Canada or the United States.
It is extremely unlikely that Jeffs would risk crossing the border between Canada and the U.S. at legal entry points when he can easily traverse the dividing line between the two countries along miles of unpatrolled border.
The FLDS Canadian enclave is less than a mile from the border. A lightly traveled dirt road connects the FLDS compound to the border, where a dilapidated wire fence is all that separates the two nations.
A quick, five-minute walk across a farm field would allow a fugitive like Jeffs to easily reach a nearby country lane, jump into an awaiting vehicle, and slip undetected into the United States.
As alluring as Canada may be as a temporary refuge, the YFZ ranch in Texas is where law enforcement and most FLDS observers believe Warren Jeffs will sooner or later hole up. It is widely anticipated that he will formally dedicate the temple when it is completed in the next few months.
If and when Jeffs shows up back in the Lone Star State -- and is known by investigators to be inside the compound -- the question remaining is whether he will attempt to martyr himself and his followers by forcing a showdown or whether he will call off his bodyguards and go peacefully into custody.
Those who know Warren Steed Jeffs are betting on the former.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
- Alleged Arizona Terrorist Charged with Supporting Islamic State
Fri., Sep. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Sep. 11, 7:00pm
Sat., Sep. 12, 6:00pm
Sat., Sep. 12, 8:00pm
- Sheriff Joe's Pot Connection: Campaign Guru Chad Willems
- Video: Downtown Scottsdale Melee Shuts Down Street