'Prophet' Still On the Run, but Authorities Closing in on Sect

Fugitives

At 3 a.m. on Oct. 28, sheriff's deputies in Pueblo County, Colo., pulled over a suspicious Ford Excursion and found a lot more than the drunken driver they expected. Reclining on a mattress in the back was Seth Jeffs, the younger brother of fugitive "prophet" Warren Jeffs, leader of a controversial polygamist sect.

An Arizona warrant for the elder Jeffs was issued last June on felony charges of conspiracy and sexual conduct with a minor, relating to his alleged role in forcing underage girls to marry much older men who typically already had wives. In August, the FBI said that he was among the agency's 20 most-wanted fugitives.

Warren Jeffs heads the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a group with an estimated 10,000 followers that has been strongly rejected by the mainstream Mormon church. Jeffs' theology includes racist descriptions of blacks, and his sect is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Inside the Ford Excursion, the Colorado deputies found seven cell phones, a stack of prepaid bank cards and some $200,000 in cash -- classic items for fugitives, authorities said. Some of the money was in containers marked "Pennies for the Prophet." There were also stacks of letters addressed to "The Prophet."

The October stop wasn't the only sign that officials are turning up the heat on FLDS' operations. Authorities have taken several other measures against the sect:

  • Eight other FLDS men have been charged with crimes relating to the marriage of underage women.

     

  • The Arizona State Board of Education is expected shortly to place the Colorado City, Ariz., School District in receivership. Warren Jeffs allegedly used the school system as a source of income, and the district's top three administrators are under criminal investigation for misuse of funds.

     

  • A judge recently froze FLDS assets in the twin towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, as part of an investigation of Jeffs. The court is transferring control of those assets -- worth some $100 million -- to trustees outside FLDS.

     

  • Several polygamist police officers in the twin towns have been stripped of their badges (polygamy is a crime in most states). Utah officials are also seeking the removal of a polygamist judge in Hildale.

Warren Jeffs has managed to evade a growing manhunt; he has not been seen since last January. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard suspects he may have frequently visited Eldorado, Texas, where his followers have been building a huge compound, including a massive limestone temple, on a 1,600-acre ranch.

Texas is the state where Seth Jeffs told deputies he was heading when they stopped his SUV on suspicion of drunken driving. After the vehicle's driver -- Seth's cousin, Nathaniel Allred -- accused Jeffs of paying him $5,000 for sexual favors, the deputies charged Seth Jeffs with soliciting prostitution.

Jeffs told deputies he was delivering the car's contents to Eldorado but would not discuss his brother's whereabouts. "Prophets are persecuted," he explained.