The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been wanted since June, when a Mohave, Ariz., grand jury indicted him on sexual contact with a minor and conspiracy charges in the forced marriage of a teenage girl to a married 28-year-old man.
Last month, prosecutors in Washington County, Utah, filed two counts of first-degree rape against Jeffs, saying he was an accomplice in the sexual assault of an underage girl. He told the girl to marry and have sex with an older man or "you'll lose your salvation," according to an affidavit.
Federal authorities also have filed two counts of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution against Jeffs, related to the state charges. A $100,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
With his placement on the Ten Most Wanted list, Jeffs joins some of America's most notorious criminals, including suspected murders, mobsters and the terrorist Osama Bin Ladin.
Tim Fuhrman, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Salt Lake City office, said the designation is given to fugitives with serious criminal records or in cases where law enforcement thinks increased publicity will assist in a capture.
"In this region, Mr. Jeffs is a relatively well-known face," said Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith, who attended a Salt Lake City news conference announcing Jeff's addition to the list, "but you get outside this region and not many people know who Mr. Jeffs is." Jeffs' placement on the list was announced at simultaneous news conferences in Salt Lake City and Phoenix. Federal, state and local law enforcement were present at both press conferences. Also on Saturday, the television show "America's Most Wanted" broadcast a segment about Jeffs.
The FLDS, which is based in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., hews to the early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, including plural marriage. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left polygamy behind in 1890 and now excommunicates members who practice it.
The charges against Jeffs are the latest in a series of events over the past two years that have put the spotlight on the FLDS.
In July 2004, Brent Jeffs filed suit accusing three of his uncles, including Warren Jeffs, of sexually assaulting him when he was a child. His suit also named the FLDS Church as a defendant. A month later, a half dozen "lost boys" who say they were cast out of their homes in the Hildale-Colorado City community to reduce competition for wives sued the church and its officials, including Jeffs.
Then in August 2004, former FLDS member Shem Fischer added the church and Jeffs as defendants to a 2002 lawsuit claiming he was illegally fired from his job as a salesman at a Hildale cabinetry business because he no longer adhered to the faith.
And in December 2005, a woman identified only as M.J. in court papers sued over her alleged forced plural marriage. Once again, Jeffs and the FLDS Church were named as defendants.
All four suits are pending.
Last year, the United Effort Plan, a trust that controls most of the property in Hildale and Colorado City, was put under the control of a court-appointed special fiduciary and its trustees were stripped of power.
The action came after Jeffs and the church failed to respond to the lawsuits, sparking fears that they would lose by default and put residents of the FLDS community in jeopardy of losing their homes to pay off a monetary award to the plaintiffs.
Other actions directed at the FLDS in 2005 include the state of Arizona taking control of the Colorado City school district and eight male members of the polygamous community other than Jeffs being charged with sex offenses for their alleged marriages to underage girls.