|Jeffs facing extradition hearing today|
By Ben Winslow|
Deseret Morning News
Captured polygamist leader Warren Jeffs will appear before a judge in Las Vegas today to face extradition back to Utah on charges of arranging a child-bride marriage.
Jeffs will go before a judge in the Las Vegas Justice Court at 9:30 a.m. He has been held in the Clark County Jail in isolation, officials said. He has refused all jailhouse interview requests.
The Washington County Attorney's Office said Wednesday it would proceed first with its rape-as-an-accomplice case against Jeffs.
"We need to make arrangements to have him transported here safely," Washington County Deputy Attorney Jerry Jaeger told the Deseret Morning News. "Once we get him here we'll have our initial appearance, probably the next day."
Prosecutors filed a motion in St. George's 5th District Court asking a judge to deny bail to Jeffs pending his return to Utah. Currently, the bail set on the arrest warrant for Jeffs is $500,000. The judge signed the temporary order, but a bail hearing will need to be held before any denial of bail becomes permanent.
Federal prosecutors held off on filing formal charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution against the man once on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list but also refused to drop their warrant. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah said it was an "option" they would keep should Jeffs be granted bail in St. George.
"He should remain in custody, and to the extent that federal charges will help that, it's something we can certainly look at," U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said.
The polygamist leader is accused of performing child-bride marriages, which led to a pair of criminal cases being filed in Utah and Arizona.
In Utah, he is charged with rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. In 2002, criminal charges state Jeffs forced a teenage girl into a polygamous marriage with an older man.
Washington County prosecutors said Wednesday they were taking steps to ensure the safety of their star witness. They declined to specify what is being done.
"We've taken steps to help protect her. We've tried to think ahead and finds ways to keep her protected," Jaeger told the Deseret Morning News. "We are concerned for her safety, and that's one thing that we're making a No. 1 priority."
In Arizona, Jeffs is charged with sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor.
"We are doing all we can, and the less media attention on the witnesses is the best protection," Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said Wednesday.
FLDS in Nevada
It remains unclear why Warren Jeffs was in Nevada, but the FLDS Church has been quietly expanding across the border. Some of the major businesses with ties to the group have left the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and moved to places like Mesquite and Las Vegas.
FLDS faithful have also relocated.
"Maybe it's a good place for them to hide out," said a woman who lives near a group of polygamists in Henderson, Nev.
Declining to give her name, she said she noticed her new neighbors about six months ago.
"There's a lot of kids, and we've seen a couple of different wives, I would assume. I could tell they were polygamists just from the way they dressed — the long sleeves, the dresses with the girls, the hair in braids," she said.
A hay farm near Pioche, Nev., has been investigated for ties to the FLDS Church to determine if millions of dollars generated from that farm went to the church.
Jeffs, 50, was arrested during a traffic stop on I-15 just outside Las Vegas Monday night. Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Eddie Dutchover stopped a red 2007 Cadillac Escalade after he was unable to read the temporary tags on the car.
Jeffs was inside the car along with one of his wives, Naomi Jessop Jeffs, and a brother, Isaac. The brother and wife were questioned and released.
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said the two remain under investigation.
"We are still looking at all the possibilities that could come from the discovery of Warren Jeffs," he said Wednesday. "People shouldn't draw any conclusions regarding the fact that nothing's happened."
Police, federal agents and prosecutors in several states huddled on Wednesday to discuss where the investigation goes from here.
"Investigations are still pending as to Warren Jeffs and where he's been for the last two years," Belnap said.
Currently, the Utah Attorney General's Office has an organized crime investigation involving Jeffs and the FLDS Church. A federal grand jury in Phoenix is reportedly investigating the sect. Several FLDS members have been jailed for refusing to testify. The Arizona Attorney General's Office has been investigating the FLDS Church and a troubled school district in Colorado City. Mohave County prosecutors are going forward with the trials of eight polygamist men.
Hildale and Colorado City remain quiet. The court-appointed special fiduciary of the FLDS Church's United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust is expected to be in Hildale today to see for himself what is happening.
"It will be interesting to see how the church functions without him," Bruce Wisan said.
In 2005, a judge took control of the UEP Trust that controls homes, businesses and property in the towns amid allegations that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders were siphoning funds from the people. The UEP Trust has an estimated $110 million in assets.
A legacy of ruined lives
One of the former leaders of the FLDS Church said Jeffs' legacy is ruined lives. Winston Blackmore, who was the bishop of the polygamous group's Canadian enclave in Bountiful, British Columbia, was ousted by Jeffs in 2002.
"All that I can think of when I think of Warren Jeffs is the hundreds of people's lives that he's ruined," Blackmore said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News. "Warren will be given a chance to be heard before a judge and have legal advice to argue his cause, a luxury that he never extended to the people that he ruined. Funny thing is that the man has contempt for the system that will grant him this privilege."
Originally published Thursday, August 31, 2006
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