|Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs held in Nevada|
By Cathy Scott|
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Fugitive polygamist sect leader Warren Steed Jeffs, one of the FBI's 10 most wanted men, was arrested after a routine traffic stop near Las Vegas, traveling with $50,000 in cash, 15 cell phones and three wigs, authorities said on Tuesday.
Jeffs, 50, considered a prophet by his estimated 10,000 followers, was jailed on warrants accusing him of sexual assault and other misconduct on minors in Arizona, and as an accomplice to rape in Utah, the FBI and state law enforcement officials said.
"Now he's going to be held accountable," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said of Jeffs' arrest. "Nobody is above the law."
Jeffs, feared as a tyrant by many former members of his sect, is accused of arranging marriages between older men and underage girls in a community that is closed to outsiders. Young men and boys are often forced out to ensure a supply of young brides for male elders.
The sect, long based in an enclave on the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when the mainstream Mormon Church banned polygamy more than a century ago.
Jeffs' group is believed to be one of the largest polygamist communities in the United States. A joint Utah-Arizona attorneys general report has estimated that 20,000 to 40,000 Americans still engage in the outlawed practice of plural marriage.
Jeffs was stopped about 6 miles north of Las Vegas by a Highway Patrol officer on Monday night for improperly displayed license plates on the sport utility vehicle he was riding in, and the patrolman recognized Jeffs.
The officer called for backup from the Highway Patrol's homeland security team, and FBI agents also were summoned, George Togliatti, Nevada's director of public safety, told reporters in Las Vegas.
When initially questioned at the scene, Jeffs gave officers an alias but acknowledged his true identity when confronted further, according to Togliatti and officials at two other news conferences in Arizona and Utah.
"Mr. Jeffs was cordial, although he was uncooperative," FBI special agent John Lewis said at a news conference in Phoenix, adding that Jeffs complained that he was the victim "of what he termed religious persecution."
ON THE RUN
Jeffs, who was on the run for at least two years and was added to the FBI's most-wanted list about three months ago, was booked into the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas to await extradition to either Utah or Arizona, officials said.
Two other individuals with him in the car, identified only as one of his wives and a brother, were released after federal authorities declined to charge them, FBI officials said.
No weapons were found in their SUV. But authorities seized at least $54,000 in cash, 15 cell phones, four portable radios, four laptop computers, three wigs, a collection of sunglasses, a police scanner, a GPS device and a duffel bag believed to contain additional cash, Lewis said. They also found numerous merchandise gift cards worth about $10,000.
Jeffs assumed control of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, from his now-deceased father when the elder leader suffered a debilitating stroke in 1998.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said Jeff's arrest sends "a very important message for the people of Colorado City because many have lived in fear of this tyrant."
Elaine Tyler, the head of the Utah-based group HOPE, which helps people leave polygamist homes, hailed Jeffs' arrest.
"I cant believe they found him," she told Reuters. "He has broken up families. He has married off young girls against their will. It is time he started paying for what he did."
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor and David Schwartz in Phoenix, James Nelson in Utah and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)
Originally published August 29, 2006
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