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Ethan Miller, Getty Images
This 2007 Cadillac Escalade carried Warren Jeffs and two others when a trooper pulled it over.

LAS VEGAS — Fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs had proclaimed that God was protecting him.

In secretly recorded sermons obtained by the Deseret Morning News, he made reference to a looming showdown with law enforcement.

"In the last moments ... the final preparation ... the storm clouds are gathering against us," Jeffs said in an August 2003 priesthood sermon. "Only the Lord can protect us from the trials ahead."

The Fundamentalist LDS Church leader will face those trials, beginning with a court appearance here on Thursday, where he will face extradition after being arrested Monday night in a simple traffic stop.

Jeffs' capture ends a nationwide manhunt for a man considered a prophet by his faithful followers, a man who was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list on May 6, grouping him with the likes of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Just after 9 p.m. Monday, a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper stopped a red 2007 Cadillac Escalade on I-15 about five miles north of Las Vegas. The temporary tag out of Colorado was partially obscured, and the trooper couldn't read it, said George Togliatti, the director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety.

At the wheel was Jeffs' brother.

'I'm Warren Jeffs'

The trooper thought the man in the passenger seat looked similar to the fugitive polygamist. FBI agents said Jeffs gave an alias, saying his name was "John Findley" and producing a contact lens receipt from Florida as proof of identification.

The trooper called for back-up. A pair of FBI agents were summoned to the scene.

"You know who I am," Jeffs is reported to have said.

"Who are you?" an FBI agent asked.

"I'm Warren Jeffs."

"What did you say?"

"I'm Warren Jeffs."

Authorities said Jeffs was taken into custody without incident. The 50-year-old man was booked into the Clark County Jail in Las Vegas at 5:07 a.m. on a pair of out-of-state warrants issued in Utah and Arizona.

FBI agents said they have tried to question Jeffs, but he has refused to reveal his whereabouts and claimed he was being subject to "religious prosecutions."

"Mr. Jeffs was not all that cooperative," Special Agent Deborah McCarley said from the FBI's office in Phoenix. "He was cordial from what I understand."

After consulting with authorities in Utah and Arizona, FBI agents questioned and released the two people who were in the car with Jeffs.

Isaac Jeffs, 32, is considered one of Warren Jeffs' most loyal brothers.

"Isaac is Warren's full brother, and he's just pretty much been a 'go fetch it' sort of person," said ex-FLDS member Carolyn Jessop, whose stepdaughter is Naomi Jessop Jeffs.

She described Naomi Jeffs as a beautiful woman with long blond hair going down to her knees. In addition to being one of Warren Jeffs' wives, Naomi, 32, was also at one time one of his "mothers."

"She was married to Rulon when she was 17 and she was Rulon's favorite wife," Jessop said Tuesday. "She was one of the first of Rulon's wives to marry Warren."

When Rulon Jeffs passed away in 2002 at the age of 92, Warren took a dozen of his father's wives as his own.

FLDS in Nevada

Inside the Escalade, authorities found $54,000 in cash, a police scanner, more than a dozen cell phones, portable radios, wigs, sunglasses, laptop computers, gift cards, a GPS device, a Book of Mormon and a picture of Warren Jeffs and his father, Rulon.

"There were letters addressed to 'The Prophet,"' said McCarley. "Obviously those were indicators that an individual in that vehicle could be Warren Jeffs."

Jeffs is believed to have been sheltered through a network of safe houses. He has been on the run since he was charged in Utah and Arizona with sex crimes accusing him of forcing teenage girls into polygamous marriages with older men. Federal prosecutors have charged him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. When the FBI added him to their Ten Most Wanted list, a $100,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest.

"The arrest is a major step toward ending Jeffs' tyrannical rule in Colorado City and in the FLDS," said Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard. "He showed flagrant disregard for subpoenas and arrest warrants and told his followers the law didn't apply to him. His arrest should make it clear to everyone that Jeffs, like all the rest of us, is subject to the rule of law."

Recently, the FLDS Church has begun expanding into Nevada, which may explain why Jeffs was in the area. FLDS-linked businesses have closed down in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and relocated to areas like Mesquite and Las Vegas.

"I was sure that he came through Vegas all the time," said Gary Engels, a special investigator for the Mohave County Attorney's Office who has been investigating crimes in Colorado City. "He has a lot of people there. He can go unnoticed there."

FLDS enclaves quiet

People who live in the polygamous border towns of Hildale and Colorado City described the town as quiet.

"People are out working in their yards, they may not even know," said ex-FLDS member Andrew Chatwin, who drove around town and described to the Deseret Morning News a number of closed restaurants and shops.

Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said he ordered more of his deputies to patrol Hildale on Tuesday but he was not anticipating any problems.

"I think that any problems that arise are going to come out of the increased news coverage," Smith said Tuesday from his office in Hurricane. "I imagine there will be a literal swarm that will descend on the Hildale/Colorado City area. We just want to make sure order is maintained and that people's privacy are respected."

Mohave County Sheriff's deputies were also seen on patrol on the other side of the border.

The FLDS Church has a number of enclaves scattered across the country including Nevada, Colorado, South Dakota, Texas and British Columbia, Canada.

At the polygamous church's temple site in Eldorado, Texas, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran broke the news of the arrest to FLDS members there.

"I said, 'I want you to know Warren Jeffs is in custody in Nevada.' They said 'OK' and took that information in," Doran told the Deseret Morning News. "It was very somber. It was hard news for them to swallow."

Doran has maintained communication with FLDS members on the YFZ Ranch. The ranch's name is "Yearning for Zion" after a song Jeffs wrote.

Facing justice

Jeffs is scheduled to appear before a judge in Las Vegas Township Justice Court on Thursday. The judge will tell him about the federal warrants and advise Jeffs of his options.

U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said he was considering filing a formal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Typically, federal flight warrants are dismissed once a fugitive is caught.

"He has already proven himself a risk of flight," he said Tuesday. "The resources that he has at his disposal are another factor."

Prosecutors in Utah and Arizona are gearing up to prosecute the FLDS leader.

"We're excited that our victim is going to have an opportunity now to have her day in court," deputy Washington County attorney Jerry Jaeger told the Deseret Morning News.

He spoke to the girl who claims that as a teenager she was forced by Warren Jeffs into a polygamous marriage with an older man. It was that charge that led to the first-degree felony rape as an accomplice charges against Jeffs, which could get him five years to life, if convicted. Jaeger spoke to the young woman on Tuesday, informing her of Jeffs' arrest.

"She's brave. She's somewhat nervous, too. She's wanting to go forward and wanting to eventually have her case heard and have her day in court," he said.

The Washington County Attorney's Office said late Tuesday that it was willing to let Arizona go first but was still working with its counterparts. Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said he will have to see what Jeffs does on Thursday.

"Like anyone else, he will have the decision of whether or not he waives or fights extradition," he said Tuesday. In 2005, Jeffs was indicted on charges of sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor in Kingman, Ariz.

Meanwhile, investigations into Jeffs and the FLDS Church continue.

Utah's attorney general has been conducting an organized crime investigation. In an interview Tuesday with the Deseret Morning News, Mark Shurtleff said he did not have enough to proceed with any charges.

"We don't have anything to that point yet," he said. "Documents, we just don't have them yet. I always thought with bringing Warren Jeffs in, somehow we'd be able to get that."

A federal grand jury in Phoenix has issued subpoenas to FLDS members. Many who refused to testify have been jailed for contempt of court. Tolman would not say if federal authorities in Utah were conducting a similar investigation.

"I will only say that it is an ongoing investigation. There are potential charges that could be brought federally in Utah and Arizona," Tolman said. "All of those matters are being looked at carefully."


Contributing: Linda Thomson

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