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Arrest could lead to turmoil

Jailing of Jeffs could enhance feelings of persecution of FLDS

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While authorities predict a change in the structure of the Fundamentalist LDS Church now that Warren Jeffs is in custody, his arrest could actually fuel the feeling of persecution among the faithful in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

"The people are still going to follow him, even when he's in prison," ex-FLDS member Andrew Chatwin said. "It will either help the people get a stronger testimony of their prophet or people will realize they've been duped to follow an evil man."

When Jeffs was on the run, charges were pending, civil lawsuits were being filed, criminal investigations were mounting and the polygamist church's financial arm is now under the control of a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court.

Jeffs' arrest could plunge the border towns into further turmoil.

"I think there's going to be a lot of fear," said ex-FLDS Church member Carolyn Jessop. "The people are pretty desperate. They've been pushed way too far."

The FLDS Church's United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust, with its $110 million in assets, was taken over by the state of Utah in 2005 amid allegations that Jeffs and other FLDS leaders were siphoning money. The UEP controls homes, businesses and property in the polygamous border towns.

Court-appointed special fiduciary Bruce Wisan said he believes there will be sadness, despair and anger.

"Anger at law enforcement, anger at the courts, anger at anybody that's involved in this process because there are many FLDS that view this as a hostile government takeover," he said Tuesday. "After that, maybe there's going to be a recognition that things really have changed, and I would hope that maybe in the long run some changes can come about."

But it is unknown if anyone within the FLDS Church will take over leadership duties in Jeffs' absence. His brother, Lyle Jeffs, is reported to have begun handling many church duties. Even while he was a fugitive, Jeffs maintained contact with his followers and issued edicts. In June, Arizona's attorney general said he suspected he had been in the Hildale-Colorado City area, performing more child bride marriages.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff hopes Jeffs' arrest will lead many FLDS faithful to loosen their lips about the abuses within the secretive polygamous communities.

"I think it's pretty clear a lot of people will be entrenched and say it's part of the prophecy, but I think there will be some who will be surprised," he said Tuesday.

Jessop said she does not believe many of the problems within the FLDS Church will go away immediately.

"Just because he's behind bars doesn't mean the child abuse is going to stop," she said Tuesday. "Warren is a product of the problem, he was created from this lifestyle. There are many more of him out there; they're just not in a position of power."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com