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Fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs arrested near Las Vegas

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Warren Jeffs

Warren Jeffs

LAS VEGAS — Top law enforcement here praised the efforts of a state trooper who pulled over fugitive Warren Jeffs late Monday, crediting the professionalism of the officer for orchestrating a routine traffic stop that ended without incident.

At a joint press conference outside the Las Vegas FBI headquarters, Steve Martinez, FBI special agent in charge, was joined by the director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety George Togliatti in an official announcement of Jeffs' apprehension.

Jeffs initially gave an alias to the trooper in the stop, but Togliatti said the trooper noticed the man looked similar to Jeffs, who has been on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List since May. Those lists are routinely circulated to law enforcement across the country.

The stop on Interstate 15 about five miles north of the Las Vegas Speedway was prompted when the trooper saw a 2007 red Cadillac Escalade bearing a temporary tag issued in Colorado that was partially hidden.

Jeffs was a passenger in the SUV.

Two other people in the car, one of Warren Jeffs' wives, Naomi Jeffs, and his brother Isaac Jeffs, were questioned and released.

Authorities said the pair were released after consultation with FBI counterparts in Arizona and Utah.

Warren Jeffs' was fingerprinted, booked and photographed at the Clark County Detention facility in Las Vegas at 5:07 a.m. He was booked on two out-of-state warrants issued from Utah and Arizona that include charges of unlawful sexual conduct of a minor and rape as an accomplice.

Although law enforcement had feared a possible violent confrontation with Jeffs — who was said to be armed and dangerous — Martinez said a preliminary search of the vehicle revealed no weapons.

Earlier, a radio news reporter on scene when the vehicle was impounded subsequent to the arrest observed a number of items that were confiscated as possible evidence.

Among them:

27 stacks of money each containing $2,500

Two female wigs — blond and brunette

14 cell phones

Two GPS navigation units

A Book of Mormon

A picture of Warren Jeffs and his father, Rulon.

It is unclear if Jeffs will go to Utah or to Arizona, where he faces sex crimes charges accusing him of forcing teenage girls into polygamous marriages with older men.

"Like anyone else, he will have the decision of whether or not he waives or fights extradition," said Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, who filed criminal charges against Jeffs in 2005.

If Jeffs fights extradition, Utah and Arizona authorities would have to get a governor's warrant to bring him back. If he waives extradition, Smith said he would appear in court in St. George, Utah, and Kingman, Ariz. Coincidentally, one of Jeffs' followers is going on trial in Kingman today, accused of marrying a 16-year-old girl as his second wife. It was a union that was arranged by Warren Jeffs, the man considered "prophet" by the Fundamentalist LDS Church.

Law enforcement called the arrest of Jeffs "good news" but remained leery of potential fall-out and turmoil within the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

"Hopefully, we can get some resolution to the process so that Mr. Jeffs and his followers are going to get on with their lives," said Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith.

In Hildale today, Smith ordered increased patrols from his deputies to keep an eye out for any problems. At the FLDS Church's enclave in Eldorado, Texas, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said he broke the news of Jeffs' arrest to faithful followers there.

"It was very somber," he told the Deseret Morning News. "It was hard news for them to swallow."

Doran said he planned to fly over the FLDS Church's sprawling ranch sometime today to make sure there was no trouble. On the YFZ Ranch, the FLDS Church has an enormous temple that is believed to have been recently completed. YFZ stands for "Yearning for Zion," after a song Jeffs wrote.

In addition to its headquarters in Hildale and Colorado City, the FLDS Church is believed to have enclaves in Texas, South Dakota, Colorado, British Columbia (Canada) and Nevada.

Recently, many FLDS-linked businesses have begun relocating to Nevada. Several construction businesses were setting up in the Mesquite area. A major manufacturer from Hildale had relocated to Las Vegas.

The FBI has been on the tail of Warren Jeffs for some time. At first, he was placed on the "Most Wanted list." After first-degree felony charges of rape as an accomplice were filed by Washington County prosecutors in St. George, Jeffs was added to the "Ten Most Wanted" list. A $100,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest.

Police developed a break when they arrested Jeffs' brother, Seth Jeffs, in Pueblo, Colo., in October 2005. Stopped during a traffic stop, police discovered more than $142,000 in cash, pre-paid credit cards, cell phone cards, cell phones and documents related to the FLDS Church. Letters addressed to "The Prophet" were there as well as a change jar with Warren Jeffs' picture and a label reading "Pennies for the Prophet."

Seth Jeffs, 33, pleaded guilty in Denver's federal court to harboring a fugitive. He was sentenced to probation.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told the Deseret Morning News in June that he had information that Warren Jeffs had been in the Hildale/Colorado City area, performing more child bride marriages.

Recently, a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court indicated she was ready to reform the $110 million financial arm of the FLDS Church. The United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust was taken over by the state of Utah in 2005, amid allegations that Jeffs and some upper echelon leaders of the FLDS Church had been siphoning money from the trust, which controls homes, buildings and property in the polygamous border towns.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com