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Former Ute tribal leader faces federal child sex abuse charges

Richard Jenks Jr., a former member of Ute Indian Tribe's executive and legislative council, is charged in U.S. District Court with two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor.
Richard Jenks Jr., a former member of Ute Indian Tribe's executive and legislative council, is charged in U.S. District Court with two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor.
Duchesne County Jail

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal grand jury has indicted a former Ute tribal leader who is accused of sexually abusing a child.

On Thursday, U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells unsealed a four-count indictment that charges Richard Jenks Jr. with two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child within Indian Country and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor within Indian Country.

Jenks sexually abused a girl from the time she was 10 years old until she was 16, assistant U.S. attorney Drew Yeates said in court. DNA evidence recovered from items collected at Jenks' house corroborate the alleged victim's account of the ongoing abuse, the prosecutor said, adding that the government's case is "extremely strong."

Yeates asked the judge to keep Jenks in federal custody until the case is resolved, but defense attorney Rudy Bautista argued that his client hasn't made any threats against the alleged victim or tried to flee in the months since his arrest.

"We believe there are already safeguards in place," Bautista told the court.

Federal agents arrested Jenks in October after he was charged in Ute Tribal Court with rape, deviate sexual intercourse and unlawful sexual intercourse. He was initially booked into the Duchesne County Jail on those charges, but was later granted pretrial release.

Bautista noted that Jenks does not have any contact with children and has a home in Fort Duchesne, where he has strong family and community ties. Yeates countered that Jenks is in the middle of a divorce and his estranged wife wants to live in the house with the couple's children.

"She fled to Nevada with the kids (after Jenks' arrest)," Yeates said, adding that the woman believes the area where she is living now is unsafe for her children and would like to return to Utah.

Wells announced that she witnessed some of Jenks' supporters in the courtroom shaking their heads as Yeates spoke and saw others whispering to each other. She called a brief recess to talk to the attorneys.

"I'm concerned at the reaction I saw from those in the gallery," Wells said when she took the bench again, adding that she wanted FBI agents and Bureau of Indian Affairs police to watch for "any retaliation against the victim or her family."

Wells ordered Jenks to remain in custody until a bed is available at a federal halfway house in Salt Lake, or until suitable arrangements can be made for him to live somewhere along the Wasatch Front.

Outside the courtroom, Bautista said he plans to look into the possibility that Jenks has been falsely accused.

"I do intend to investigate thoroughly the possible motivation for fabricating these allegations," he said.

Jenks, 56, has served more than one term on the Ute Tribe Business Committee, where he represented members of the tribe's Uncompahgre Band. The six-member Business Committee exercises executive and legislative power on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation in northeastern Utah. Jenks' most recent term in office ended in April 2013.

The tribal court case against Jenks is expected to be dismissed, now that the federal case has been filed. A conviction on the federal aggravated sex abuse charge carries a mandatory sentence of 30 years to life in prison. The sex abuse charge carries a possible sentence of up 15 years in prison.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik