Jan 27, 2016

Cloak-and-dagger steps used to protect fugitive sect leader

Arizona Daily Star
January 27, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) — The former head of security for a polygamous church rattled off a list of elaborate steps used to assist the sect's leader while he was a fugitive a decade ago and explained how towns in Arizona and Utah took orders from the church.

Willie Jessop, who left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 2011, said those who assisted church leader Warren Jeffs used disposable cellphones and encrypted radios to communicate. They drove 40 miles to make calls out of fear that authorities were monitoring their phones.

Jessop is a key witness at a trial in Phoenix in which the federal government alleges that Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, served as an enforcement arm of the sect.

The former security chief said he would fly to places around the country to serve as a decoy and throw law enforcement off the trail while Jeffs was being moved to a new hiding place.

Jeffs, who was on the run from charges of arranging marriages between girls and older men, was captured during a 2006 traffic stop outside Las Vegas in an SUV with $50,000, cellphones, a police scanner and wigs. He is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting one of the 24 underage brides.

The towns are accused of discriminating against nonbelievers by denying them housing, water services and police protection. The communities deny the allegations and say religion isn't a motivating factor in their decisions.

Jessop told jurors that residents must have church approval to serve in government in the towns.

He said a turning point occurred in 2004 when 20 men were booted from the church. "It changed from a church to a cartel," he said.

Lawyers for the towns pressed Jessop on why he remained in the church for seven more years.

Jessop said he turned against church leaders after Texas authorities played him an audio tape in which Jeffs raped a 12-year-old girl. Jessop said he later reviewed another recording in which Jeffs confessed to a rape.

Hildale attorney Blake Hamilton objected to Jessop's testimony about the allegations against Jeffs.

"This is not the criminal trial of Warren Jeffs," Hamilton said.

Outside court, Colorado City attorney Jeff Matura said: "The testimony about Warren Jeffs and his criminal conduct is heartbreaking, especially with respect to this treatment of children, but it's not part of the allegations of this case."

Federal investigators say Colorado City officers claimed to have no information on Jeffs' whereabouts while he was a fugitive, even though it was later discovered that some of them had written letters to the church leader during that time.


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