Wanted: Armed and Dangerous

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"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.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty