Where Few Dare to Disobey

Times Staff Writers

To his followers, Warren Jeffs is a teacher and spiritual leaderwho channels divine revelations — the man they call theirprophet.

To the FBI, Jeffs is an accused rapist and fugitive on its 10 MostWanted list with a $100,000 bounty on his head — a man itcalls armed and dangerous.

Despite the conflicting images, one thing is clear: Jeffs’four-year reign as the patriarch of the Fundamentalist Church ofJesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, has been the mosttumultuous in at least 50 years.

His authoritarian rule has sparked internal conflict and lawsuitsalleging sexual abuse and other criminal misconduct. And that, inturn, has attracted rare public scrutiny of this secretive sect of10,000 polygamists and its remote enclave on the Utah-Arizonaborder.

Those who have fled or been exiled, along with state investigators,describe it as a tyrannical theocracy.

“I have a corner of my state that is worse than [under] theTaliban,” Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff acknowledged.

Carolyn Jessop, who fled the community under cover of darkness withher eight children in a van and $20 in her pocket, said she stillfound it “hard to believe this stuff is going on in the UnitedStates.”

Jessop, now 38, was the fourth wife of a high-ranking church leaderwhen she escaped that night three years ago. Fear drove her todesperation, she said.

Her oldest son had been yanked out of school at age 12 by hisfather to work construction jobs. And she feared that Jeffs, anaccused pedophile, planned to take her 13-year-old daughter as hisbride.

“I would have gone to the ends of the Earth to prevent that,"Jessop said.

She is one of the growing numbers of former church members speakingout, challenging state and federal authorities to protect women andchildren who they say are victims of widespread sexual abuse andwholesale civil rights violations.

“It’s not going to stop until somebody stands up to it or demandsthe state does,” Jessop said.

From its beginnings in the 1930s, the FLDS, an offshoot ofMormonism, was more than just a church. It was a way of life— influenced by seemingly arbitrary edicts and so-calleddivine revelations that didn’t stop after Sunday services.

Playing basketball might be fine one day then outlawed the next.Church would be open, then shuttered for months. Men in goodstanding for years might be expelled without explanation.

Absolute obedience is the cornerstone of the faith and is endlesslypreached.

“Man actually belongs to [the] prophet, willing to do what isdirected,” Jeffs said in one sermon, according to a transcript. Awoman, he said, should concentrate entirely on submitting to herhusband, praying each morning, “ ‘I want to do your will, Father,through obeying my husband or my father or our prophet.’ ”

Control has been exerted in more practical ways as well. Untilrecently, the FLDS operated under a trust called the United EffortPlan. The trust ran businesses in Colorado City and adjoiningHildale, Utah. It owned all the homes, and members tithed 10% oftheir incomes, usually in monthly payments.

Residents lived largely rent-free but were at the mercy of thechurch. If they displeased the church, they could be evicted, andif they worked for an FLDS business, they could lose their jobs aswell. Worst of all, for the faithful, they could be damned.

But one thing never changed: polygamy. It remains central to thefaith as it once was to mainstream Mormons, before they abandonedthe practice in 1890.

An FLDS text, “In Light and Truth,” quotes liberally from Mormonpatriarchs such as Brigham Young to defend the practice.

“Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continueto do so, I promise that you will be damned,” Young declared in1855.

Sect members are taught they cannot reach the highest levels ofheaven without at least three wives. Women, or often girls, are"gifted” to men by the prophet, who is seen as revealing God’splan. A former member said one of his “mothers” was 13 when he was8. Wives are encouraged to give birth each year.

No one marries without the prophet’s permission. Circumventing theprocess can lead to excommunication.

Former FLDS prophet Leroy Johnson urged boys to avoid girls untilhe placed them into marriages.

“Treat the girls in your acquaintance as though they were snakes,"he counseled. “Hands off!”

Lenore Holm discovered the penalty for dissent in this theocraticcommunity. She objected six years ago when the prophet came for herthen-15-year-old daughter, Nicole.

Jeffs told the mother that he had selected her teenager to marry a39-year-old man.

“I told Warren I would never give my consent to have my daughtermarry that man,” she said. “He didn’t say much because he was soangry. He told us to get out.”

The entire family was ordered out of their home.

Holm waged a two-year court fight to block eviction. She kept herhouse but lost her daughter: The teenager married the man chosenfor her by the prophet.

Most women give in without a fight, handing over their children towhat one described as “the wolves scratching at the doors.”

Young members try to preempt arranged marriages by finding someonethey like then asking permission to marry them.

Sometimes that backfires.

Ruth Stubbs was 15 when she asked then-prophet Rulon Jeffs, WarrenJeffs’ father, if she could marry her sweetheart, Carl Cooke. Thesenior Jeffs said he’d “take it up with the heavenly father,"Stubbs recalled.

When she returned, accompanied by her sister’s husband, RodneyHolm, Rulon Jeffs told her: “It comes to me that you belong toRod.”

Stubbs said she burst into tears.

“He asked if I was willing to do whatever the prophet asks and Isaid I was,” Stubbs recalled in a recent interview. “They didn’teven give me 24 hours.”

The two were married in 1998, and Stubbs became wife No. 3 forRodney Holm, a then-32-year-old Colorado City police officer.

Still, as easily as marriages can be done, they can just as easilybe undone.

Richard Holm, a Colorado City town councilman, had both of hiswives and his children taken from him and given to his brother.Then he was kicked out of town.

“Warren told me that the Lord had told him to get rid of me,"Richard Holm recalled. “I thought there was some kind ofmisunderstanding.”

Church rules provided no avenue for appeal. He was exiled in2003.

Boys booted out of the community were exiled on the flimsiest ofpretexts. The reason, say outside investigators, was to reducecompetition for wives.

Sam Icke was one of more than 400 youths expelled. They are nowknown as the Lost Boys. His crime was having a girlfriend. He metwith Jeffs before his exile.

“He asked me graphic sex details and took notes,” recalled Icke,who was 18 at the time. “I was told to repent, so I went on arepenting spree. I wanted to stay. I was afraid, like a bird beingpushed out of its nest. My dad got a call a few days later fromWarren and he said I should leave.”

Icke was helped by the Diversity Foundation near Salt Lake City,which shelters and educates the teens.

The boys said FLDS leaders often sent police to harass and ticketthem. Some boys said they left because they couldn’t pay theirfines.

“The cops would stalk me and try to give me curfew violationtickets,” said Carl Ream, 17, who was thrown out at age 14.

John Jessop, also exiled at 14, said police would wait for him toget home at night, then cite him for a curfew infraction.

“The cops care more about religion than the law,” he said.

Former Colorado City Police Chief Sam Roundy denied allegations ofpolice harassment when questioned by investigators from the Utahand Arizona police standards boards, which were looking into hisbackground and training. He said only lawbreakers weretargeted.

But a former police dispatcher said he saw examples of policeharassment.

“If there was a young kid in town they didn’t like, they would getrid of him,” said Paul Musser, the former dispatcher. “I was in thestation. I heard all the calls. The police were watching for peoplethey thought were not good influences. They would wait for probablecause or maybe they wouldn’t.”

Women and girls, needed as wives, are rarely pushed out. Instead,those who disobey face being sent to mental hospitals.

Pam Black said her now deceased husband, a Colorado City policeofficer, would hold the phone and threaten to dial 911 whenever sherefused his commands.

“He would say he was going to have me handcuffed and taken to aninsane asylum,” said Black, a former FLDS member. “That’s all a manhad to do, call 911.”

Sworn affidavits of FLDS women have accused law enforcement here ofillegally transporting them to mental facilities without dueprocess. The affidavits were submitted as part of an Arizona stateinquiry into local police practices.

In one instance described under oath, a woman fleeing her abusivehusband was picked up by the local sheriff’s deputy, an FLDSmember, and taken to a hospital in Utah. According to theaffidavit, the deputy called the prophet, not his law enforcementsuperiors, and was directed to a Provo, Utah, mental facility.

Other women said they were taken by police to the Guidance Center,a mental hospital in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Laurene Jessop ended up there after brawling with a “sister wife"who she said had tried to strangle her daughter. Their husbandsummoned the police. Two Colorado City officers arrived, handcuffedLaurene Jessop and took her in a police car to the Guidance Center,she said.

“They didn’t give me a choice,” she said, recalling that theofficers told her, “ ‘You’re not keeping sweet — you arebeing rebellious.’ ”

It all happened quickly. She did not grant permission to beadmitted and “there was no court proceeding that I know of,"Laurene Jessop said.

Husband Val Jessop said in an interview that she had been rippingup the garden and acting violently.

The clinic’s discharge summary, obtained by The Times, said LaureneJessop suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome stemming fromchildhood sexual abuse. It said she also suffered stress in herrelations with sister wives, and proposed that she seek couple’scounseling with Warren Jeffs.

A Guidance Center spokeswoman declined to discuss any cases. “Ourfacility is not allowed to release any information about clients ortheir care,” said Susan Nelson, outpatient clinical director.

Jeffs’ counseling style is evident in a recent report by aWashington County, Utah, sheriff’s deputy investigating a rapeallegation in Hildale. The victim had been reluctant to marry anolder man as ordered.

Although the girl also was underage for legal marriage, Jeffs saidit was her “spiritual duty” to wed the older man. He personallyperformed the ceremony. When she balked at having sex with her newhusband, Jeffs rebuked her.

“You go give yourself mind, body and soul to your husband likeyou’re supposed to,” he said, according to the sheriff’sreport.

“No matter what happens, you cannot fight with the priesthood,"Jeffs reportedly told her. “Because if you do, you’ll lose yoursalvation.”

The sheriff’s report identifies the victim as “Jane Doe IV,” whowas a teenager at the time she was forced to marry.

Surrounded by outside authorities too timid to act and local policeunwilling to protect them, victims here have risked home andlivelihood by fighting back.

Pennie Petersen was born and raised in Colorado City.Independent-minded even as a child, she read voraciously, evenbooks banned by the FLDS like the works of Zane Grey and LouisL’Amour.

Yet all the time, she said, she was fending off sexual abuse fromevery direction.

“My best friend got married at 14. Her husband … startedgetting on me. I went to my parents; big mistake…. The prophetLeroy Johnson decided I should marry [the abuser],” Petersenrecalled. “I’d be his fifth wife and he was 48.”

Petersen said if molesters were caught with a girl, the abuserswere often told to marry the victims.

Unwilling to marry at 14, Petersen ran away to Las Vegas but neverreally escaped. She learned that her 12-year-old sister had married39-year-old Colorado City polygamist William Orson Black Jr.

Petersen tried to intervene. By the time she persuaded authoritiesto raid Black’s house, he had fled with her sister to Mexico. Heremains a fugitive.

Investigators with the Arizona attorney general’s office thinkColorado City police tipped off Black. The local police also areaccused of warning Warren Jeffs when Utah investigators tried, andfailed, to serve him with a subpoena.

In 2001, Petersen found another of her sisters, Ruth Stubbs, on herdoorstep fleeing what she said was an abusive polygamous marriageto Rodney Holm.

Petersen assembled details and persuaded Utah to prosecute Holm forhaving sex with a minor; Stubbs was 16 when she married him. He wassentenced to a year in jail, serving at night, and was releasedafter six months.

It is rare for polygamists to be prosecuted in Utah. Stateauthorities consider it impractical to prosecute its estimated20,000 polygamists, though the practice is a felony in Utah.

“Everything we have done we had to push them on,” Petersen said ofstate and local authorities. “They were all chicken because theyfeel they will lose their whole careers if they go after this.

“They keep saying it’s a religious freedom issue,” Petersencomplained. “I keep saying it is not a religious freedom issue,it’s about sleeping with children.”

Rodney Holm’s conviction provided an opening for other victims, thefirst crack in FLDS defenses against outsider intrusions. A groupof Lost Boys followed up with a lawsuit against the church. Anotherman sued Warren Jeffs saying the prophet molested him as achild.

Internal frictions mounted as Jeffs imposed increasingly draconianpunishments.

He called a rare town meeting in January 2004 and read the namesof 21 men he called “master deceivers,” including Colorado CityMayor Dan Barlow. They were excommunicated, and Jeffs gave theirwives and children to other men.

“Warren looked at us and said, ‘You know what you have done,’ “recalled Isaac Wyler, who was on the list and didn’t know why.

The 21 were instantly divorced by Jeffs’ decree, and their familieswere ordered to stop talking to them.

“He told us to keep working, keep sending him money, and to repentfrom afar,” Wyler said. “I sent him a 25-page letter of repentancelisting anything I might have done. He never answered myletter.”

The news media swarmed the town. Rumors spread that the exiled menwere coming back with guns blazing.

Most significantly, however, former insiders began telling theirstories. Few were as explosive as the one told by Brent Jeffs. Andhe told his in a formal complaint filed in court.

In 2004, Brent Jeffs named his uncle Warren Jeffs in a civil suitseeking damages for alleged sexual abuse suffered as a boy. Hecharged that his uncle routinely sodomized him as a 5-year-old inthe bathroom at an FLDS school where Warren Jeffs was a teacher andprincipal.

Brent Jeffs kept quiet for years, he said, until the nightmaresbecame unbearable. He said he would wake screaming, “Don’t hurt me!Don’t hurt me!” When he finally told his family, two of hisbrothers said the same abuse happened to them.

Warren Jeffs did not respond to the suit. He has not been seen inpublic since the lawsuit was filed.

Brent Jeffs, now 23, is seeking a default judgment. His brotherClayne shot himself in the head shortly after sharing his long-heldsecret.

“I have no doubt our son’s death was due to Warren,” said WardJeffs, Brent and Clayne’s father. “He would put the fear of Godinto people, telling them that perfect obedience assures heaven.Now he’s running like a scared rabbit. Eventually the man will haveto pay for doing such bad things to people.”

Lawsuits and news coverage finally attracted the attention of stateofficials. Utah’s Shurtleff and his counterpart in Arizona, Atty.Gen. Terry Goddard, met with some of the Lost Boys and exiledmen.

“The first question out of my mouth was, ‘Why are we letting thisgo on? Why isn’t there someone prosecuting these cases?’ “Shurtleff said.

“Jeffs is a coward, a tyrant and a pedophile. The more I hear abouthow women are treated, the racism — every time you thinkyou’ve heard it all, you hear something new.”

Shurtleff first went after the trust, working to break up the$150-million United Effort Plan. Through court action, he put itunder the supervision of an outside administrator, removingeviction threats as an FLDS tool.

His office also is looking into allegations of welfare fraud.Shurtleff said 66% of Hildale residents and 78% in Colorado Cityreceived welfare, usually food stamps.

Goddard asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rightsinvestigation to determine whether the Colorado City policeunlawfully expelled boys from town and improperly handled sexualabuse complaints.

Arizona also is investigating the local school district and hasfound widespread misuse of state funds.

In 2001, the church pulled 1,000 children from the public school,leaving about 200 non-FLDS children behind. But the number of FLDSadministrators on the school district payroll did not decline,Goddard said.

The school is now in state receivership with a new principal.

“They used [school] credit cards for personal use; they tookunnecessary trips. They were paying people who weren’t there,” saidMike File, superintendent of Mohave County, Ariz., schools. “Thisdistrict is as corrupt as corrupt gets.”

There are other signs that the polygamist enclave is changing, frominside and outside.

Colorado City Police Officer Sam Roundy and another officer weredecertified last year and lost their badges.

The church hierarchy has relocated to a sprawling compound inEldorado, Texas, where a new temple recently was completed.

Enclaves have emerged in South Dakota and Colorado. FLDS groupsalso operate in Nevada, Idaho, British Columbia and Mexico.

And the search for Warren Jeffs has spread nationwide.

In October, Seth Jeffs, Warren’s brother, was arrested near Pueblo,Colo., along with a cousin. Sheriff’s deputies searching their carfound five cellphones, $140,000 in cash, letters and a large glassjar with Warren Jeffs’ picture that said, “Pennys for theprophet.”

Seth Jeffs pleaded guilty this month to harboring a federalfugitive. He is to be sentenced in July.

In the last week, attention to the fugitive prophet intensifiedwhen the FBI announced it had put him on its 10 Most Wantedlist.

Warren Jeffs made the list, said FBI agent Deborah McCarley inPhoenix, “because he is considered a danger to the community.”

Whether or not justice finally has come to this patch of desert,there is no question that state and federal law enforcement is aserious presence here for the first time in 50 years.

On the edge of town, Mohave County officials have set up a socialservices center and, significantly, a criminal investigationoffice.

Gary Engels, who runs the office, cited some of the most importantchanges.

“We got the [trust] under state control; we got the schools understate control; we got the leaders on the run,” he said.

And Arizona Atty. Gen. Goddard said it was time the communityplayed by the same rules as the rest of the country.

“You can’t have a sect … out there saying, ‘The law doesn’tapply to us … and the only thing that matters is what ourprophet tells us,’ ” he said.

“That’s fundamentally unacceptable.”