PHOENIX – The leader of a polygamous sect has been charged with sex crimes for allegedly arranging a marriage between a teenage girl and a 28-year-old man who was already married, prosecutors said.
Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (search), was charged with counts that include conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, prosecutors said Friday. If convicted, he could face up to two years in jail.
Jeffs, 49, didn't have sex with the 16-year-old girl but arranged her marriage to the man, said Matthew Smith, the attorney for Mohave County (search), Ariz.
Authorities do not know where Jeffs is and were hoping the release of his name would help result in his arrest. Jeffs has not been seen publicly in more than a year and is thought by some to be in Texas on a new church ranch.
"He's going to be held accountable for the charges. That's the bottom line," Utah Attorney General Shurtleff said. "This sends a message that Warren Jeffs is not above the law."
Polygamy (search) is illegal, but it is believed that tens of thousands of Mormon fundamentalists and others across the West continue the practice. Polygamy is practiced openly in Colorado City, a remote enclave in Arizona on the state line with Utah that is dominated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Polygamy also is practiced in Hildale, Utah, across the state line from Colorado City.
The fundamentalist sect split from mainstream Mormonism after the broader church renounced polygamy more than a century ago. The fundamentalist group touts that men must have at least three wives to reach heaven.
The married man was not identified. He is expected to be charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual conduct with a minor.
Messages left with Rod Parker and R. Scott Barry, attorneys who have represented Jeffs and the church in the past, were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
Shurtleff's office has brought the church under increasing scrutiny amid allegations of sexual abuse, forced marriages and welfare fraud. Utah has also prosecuted a police officer for bigamy for having two wives.
Jeffs also is the subject of several other civil complaints filed by residents of Hildale and Colorado City. Shurtleff said his office has tried for two weeks to serve Jeffs with a court order showing the state can take temporary control of the church's trust fund.
Rowenna Erickson, co-founder of the anti-polygamy group Tapestry Against Polygamy, cheered the ruling Friday when reached by phone at her Salt Lake City home.
"Hallelujah. Now if they can just get him," Erickson said. "I truly believe it will ripple on back up to Utah, and affect what can happen to these groups."
Colorado City is 370 miles north of Phoenix.