Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in custody of Arizona authorities to face new charges

PHOENIX – Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was handed over to Arizona authorities Tuesday to face charges alleging he arranged the marriages of two teenage girls to older men.

He already has been convicted in Utah in connection with an arranged marriage involving a 14-year-old girl.

Deputies from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office took custody of Jeffs from Utah officials, sheriff’s spokeswoman Trish Carter said.

Jeffs, 52, the former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is scheduled to appear in court to enter a plea Wednesday in Kingman, in northwestern Arizona.

He is charged as an accomplice with four counts of incest and four counts of sexual contact with a minor in an indictment.

Members of the church live in the isolated twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Jeffs, 52, will plead not guilty to the Arizona charges at Wednesday’s hearing, said defense attorney Mike Piccarreta.

Piccarreta plans to ask the judge for a change of venue, saying Kingman is too close to St. George, Utah, the site of Jeffs’ first trial, for him to get a fair trial here. The cities, separated by the Grand Canyon, are a more than 200-mile drive apart.

“If people want to give Mr. Jeffs a fair trial, we have to hold it in an area as far away as practical from the other case in Utah,” he said. “And that case to me is an example of what occurs when you don’t take the case away from people that have lots of knowledge and local publicity that has tainted the jury panel.”

Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said the trial, which will be months from now, should be held in Mohave County because that’s where the alleged crimes occurred.

It has been 2« years since Mohave County prosecutors filed charges against Jeffs and he went into hiding.

He was arrested in August 2006 in Nevada and was convicted last year in Utah of rape as an accomplice in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. At the time of his arrest, he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Jeffs was named president, or prophet, of the FLDS church in 2002.

The mainstream Mormon church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago, excommunicates members who engage in the practice and disavows any connection with the FLDS church.

Jeffs was sentenced in Utah to serve two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison. Smith has said that if Jeffs is convicted in Arizona he would have to finish his Utah sentence before doing time here.