The Austin Chronicle

Jeffs Faces Justice

By Jordan Smith, September 8, 2006, News

Polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, the fugitive leader of the breakaway Mormon sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in court in Nevada on Sept. 1, waived his right to fight efforts to send him back to Utah to face felony rape-as-accomplice charges, punishable by up to life in prison. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, a wan-looking Jeffs, 50, told the court in a barely audible voice that he was willing to "go ahead and be extradited."

Jeffs, who'd been on the lam for more than a year – fleeing felony charges in Arizona and Utah related to his arranging marriages between young girls and older, married men and from a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution – was finally popped Aug. 28, during a traffic stop just north of Las Vegas. Jeffs, whose mug was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list earlier this year, told the Nevada state trooper who stopped the 2007 red Cadillac Escalade he was riding in that his name was "John Findley" – a fact he tried to back up by producing a receipt for purchasing a pair of contact lenses with that name on it, according to court papers filed Aug. 30 in Utah. Unfortunately for Jeffs, the trooper recognized him, bringing to an end the prophet's year on the run. Inside the Escalade, officers found $53,000 in cash in the lining of a suitcase, $10,000 in prepaid gift cards, three wigs, 12 pairs of sunglasses, 16 cell phones, two geopositioning units, four laptop computers, and a police scanner – among other items, according to court records. Additionally, officials found a list of people who would offer Jeffs "houses of hiding" and a note – written in Jeffs' ye olde prophetese commanding his followers to keep his location a secret. "So I have to be in hiding in my travels, not let anyone know" reads the note. "And when I come to a land of refuge, you must not reveal where I am in your phone calls and your letters."

With Jeffs in jail, FLDS-watchers wonder who will take over the prophet top spot if jail brings an end to Jeffs' rule, which ostensibly began in 2002, after the death of his father, Rulon T. Jeffs. (Many FLDS insiders – some excommunicated members – say Jeffs actually took over rule of the roost while the elder Jeffs was still alive, yet increasingly infirm.) So far it appears there are three possible candidates to assume the job. There's Winston Blackmore, head of an FLDS offshoot headquartered in British Columbia; he and his followers left the FLDS stronghold straddling the border of Arizona and Utah after Jeffs took over by, reportedly, usurping power from Blackmore, the favored to take over after Rulon died. Another possible successor is David Steed Allred, the man behind the FLDS' purchase of several properties – including the large, gated Yearning for Zion ranch in the West Texas town of Eldorado, where the sect has built its first-ever temple. (For more on that, see "Meet the New Neighbors," July 29, 2005.) Finally, sources suggest a third, darker-horse candidate named Wendell Nielsen. He's long been among Jeffs' most loyal followers, a source tells us, and could be a good choice to continue Jeffs' ironfisted rule. Nielsen is the founder of Western Precision Inc., a high tech machine-shop operation and one of the largest FLDS-backed businesses that recently relocated to Las Vegas and was renamed NewEra Manufacturing; indeed, the Cadillac Escalade in which Jeffs was riding at the time of his arrest was registered to John Wayman, a principle of NewEra.

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