|Jeffs on FBI's Top Ten|
Most Wanted listing fuels search
By Ben Winslow|
Deseret Morning News
The FBI has named Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs to its Top Ten Most Wanted list, fueling the nationwide manhunt to find the fugitive polygamist prophet.
"The list includes terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, serial murderers and child predators," FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Tim Fuhrman said at a news conference in Salt Lake City Saturday night. A simultaneous news conference was held by FBI agents in Phoenix.
By adding Jeffs to the Top Ten list, Fuhrman said "the various methods of publicizing Jeffs' status as a fugitive will expand considerably."
Wanted posters of Jeffs will be placed in public buildings nationwide and distributed to police agencies worldwide. The FBI will also have more resources available to pursue leads regarding Jeffs' whereabouts.
Jeffs had previously been on one of the agency's most-wanted lists, but the move to the Top Ten Most Wanted gives the case higher visibility.
"I feel like we're very close," Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said of the hunt for Jeffs. "Since the expulsions took place, we've been getting more and more intelligence and we feel like it's going to pay rich dividends."
Still, FBI agents admitted they do not know where Jeffs is.
The FLDS Church has compounds in Hildale, Washington County; Colorado City, Ariz.; Eldorado, Texas; Mancos, Colo.; Pioche, Nev.; and Bountiful, British Columbia. FBI agents confirmed to the Deseret Morning News Saturday night they were investigating rumors of a ranch owned by the FLDS Church in Quintana Roo, Mexico, near Cancun.
"We have no particular reason to believe Mr. Jeffs is in the state of Utah," said Ken Wallentine, the Utah attorney general's chief of law enforcement.
Utah authorities have said they believe Jeffs has recently been at the FLDS Church's compound in Eldorado, Texas, where the group has completed a temple. Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran told the Deseret Morning News he has seen no sign of Jeffs.
"We haven't had anything out of the ordinary," the sheriff said Saturday. "There has been no sign of Warren Jeffs, nothing like that. Have you seen him?"
Fuhrman said they cannot just barge into the Eldorado compound.
"We have to observe the Constitution," he said.
Jeffs has been known to travel with armed bodyguards who are fiercely loyal to him. That led the FBI to consider him "armed and dangerous."
Some former FLDS members fear that putting Jeffs on the FBI's Top Ten list might fuel a confrontation with the fugitive leader.
"I don't think it's going to make any difference to his loyal followers," Richard Holm said. He was ousted by Jeffs, and his wives and children were given to another man. "I suspect it will make him more of a hero in their mind."
Holm said Jeffs talked about martyrdom in a 2003 sermon and compared himself to Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The FLDS Church is a breakaway religion.
"He made statements that if he goes to jail, he knows he'll never come out alive," Holm told the Deseret Morning News.
Pro and anti-polygamy groups weighed in on the FBI's announcement Saturday.
"This is an achievement when we see a polygamous leader on America's Top Ten Most Wanted list," said Vicky Prunty of Tapestry Against Polygamy. "There are other polygamous leaders hiding under the radar screen just as ruthless and dangerous as Warren Jeffs and we hope the FBI will take the same interest in protecting women and children from these men."
Pro-polygamy activists questioned why Jeffs was being elevated to Top Ten status, given the conspiracy and unlawful flight charges.
"It seems reserved for the most egregious offenders," said Principle Voices' Mary Batchelor. "I do not mean to trivialize the charges against Jeffs, but I'm not sure the escalation of his wanted status is commensurate with the alleged offenses."
Law enforcement said Jeffs deserves the ranking.
"Warren Jeffs is a child predator," Wallentine said.
On Saturday, the FBI raised the reward for information leading to Jeffs' arrest to $100,000.
Jeffs was charged in St. George last month with rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He is accused of forcing a teenage girl into a polygamous marriage with an older man. When she asked to leave the marriage, prosecutors say Jeffs threatened her with religious damnation.
In Mohave County, Ariz., Jeffs is facing sexual misconduct charges stemming from a child bride marriage. Federal prosecutors in Utah and Arizona have filed charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution against Jeffs.
Originally published Sunday, May 7, 2006
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