Texas FLDS probe may aid Arizona, Utah investigations
SALT LAKE CITY - While Texas officials are keeping quiet about what they seized from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's ranch, authorities and lawyers in Utah and Arizona are hoping it can reinvigorate their investigations into the polygamous sect.
"My personal hope is it will jump-start it," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Deseret Morning News. "But I don't know how long it will be before that information is shared with us."
The Utah Attorney General's Office has been conducting an organized-crime probe into FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and the church, but Shurtleff admits the investigation has stalled, mostly because authorities cannot get their hands on evidence.
Papers, computer equipment and other evidence seized when Jeffs was arrested in Nevada in 2006 is in the custody of the FBI. It is the subject of legal battles over whether some of it is "privileged communication" between the religious leader who was once on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list and his followers.
The FBI confirmed it served a federal search warrant on the YFZ Ranch April 8, but declined to comment on what was seized, saying it is part of a pending federal case.
"The application and affidavit in support of the search warrant are sealed and will remain sealed; no further comment will be made as this is a pending investigation," Richard Roper, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement Thursday.
Shurtleff said he has been told authorities in Texas seized "lots of records, hard drives and computer records" from the temple on the YFZ Ranch.
A judge in Texas will likely have to decide to what extent - if any - the evidence is protected by privilege.
Already, lawyers for the court-controlled United Effort Plan Trust want to see some of that evidence.
"We're taking steps to get those documents," said Jeffrey L. Shields, a lawyer for the UEP Trust. "It may not relate to the kids, but it may relate to the trust."
The UEP Trust was the financial arm of the FLDS Church until it was taken over by a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court in 2005 over allegations that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it. Shields said the former trustees for the UEP have not given them a single piece of paper about how the trust was managed. The court-appointed accountant now in charge of the UEP Trust also has an $8.8 million judgment against Jeffs and the FLDS Church.
"We have a judgment against the church. It may relate to some of the assets there," Shields said Thursday.
Lawyers for former members of the FLDS Church who are suing Jeffs and the church also wouldn't mind seeing what was seized.
"The whole thing is of interest to us," said Greg Hoole. "Whether or not it's something we're going to be using in our litigation, we haven't made any decisions."
Hoole is also the attorney for Elissa Wall, who was Washington County's star witness in its case against Jeffs. The FLDS leader was convicted of performing a marriage between the then-14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Wall has been in Texas meeting with prosecutors about their case.
In Arizona, Jeffs is facing charges of sexual conduct with a minor and incest, accusing him of performing more child-bride marriages. Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith expressed interest in what was seized.
"Until we actually are allowed to view any evidence found at the Texas ranch, I cannot tell you if it would help us in any of our pending cases," Smith said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News. "I am hopeful that it will be of utility to our cases."
Jeffs is currently in the Mohave County Jail in Kingman. If he is aware of the raid in Texas, authorities are not saying. The Mohave County Sheriff's Office would only say that during the hour each day that Jeffs is allowed out of his cell, he mostly uses the phone.
"Warren Jeffs is protected by the Fifth Amendment and his counsel and cannot be interviewed and will not be giving any statements to anyone," Smith said.