Even before he became a fugitive, polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs began visiting state capitals to "shake the dust off his feet in condemnation," asking that each be punished with "the wrath of God," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says.

Speaking to a symposium at the S.J. Quinney College of Law in Salt Lake City, Shurtleff said Jeffs visited all 48 contiguous states to perform the ordinance, which he detailed in "priesthood letters" and journals seized in April from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.

Shurtleff recounted Jeffs' travels to several dozen attorneys and law students at Friday's Non-State Governance symposium at the University of Utah. The symposium focused on whether it is appropriate to limit constitutional rights when a community's members are put at risk.

Jeffs, 53, was a fugitive from sex abuse-related charges between June 2005 and August 2006, when he was arrested near Las Vegas.

Texas authorities temporarily removed 439 children during the April raid, and carted off 400-plus boxes of documents, photographs and other items. That evidence was screened for any religious or attorney-client privilege exemption and then turned over to the Texas Attorney General's Office.

Shurtleff told The Salt Lake Tribune he received a stack of documents Thursday that had been attached as exhibits to a deposition transcript taken in a Texas case involving Jeffs' 17-year-old daughter, one of the children removed from the ranch.

Willie Jessop and Merril Jessop, both members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, were deposed in the teenager's case.

During his speech, Shurtleff said Jeffs, incarcerated in Mohave County while he awaits trial in Arizona, has predicted "the prison walls are going to be falling down at any moment." FLDS members are waiting to see what happens with the criminal case before deciding whom to follow, he said.

"Everybody is hedging their bets on Warren Jeffs," Shurtleff said, adding Jeffs' journals suggest "he is in control. He's controlling everything.

"Ultimately, if and when they realize he is never going to get out of prison, I think it will result in a change of leadership," Shurtleff told the symposium.

Shurtleff said Willie Jessop -- a man who "I used to call a thug" -- seems to be jockeying for position within the FLDS community. Shurtleff told The Tribune it's unclear who gave Jessop authority to represent the sect in ongoing negotiations regarding its communal property trust.

The trust is under court supervision following allegations of mismanagement, but a Utah judge is urging a settlement in the case.

"A constant question," Shurtleff said, "is if the person we're negotiating with is the right person" and what might happen to any deal if that person were excommunicated by Jeffs.

Willie Jessop, who has served as a spokesman for the FLDS since the April raid, was perplexed as to how to respond to Shurtleff's comments.

"I've been branded a lot of things by the Attorney General's Office. I don't know how to react to another allegation when they've been doing it for years," he said.

Jessop also said he found it "alarming" that Shurtleff was discussing documents "we believe are sealed and we believe are protected under the First Amendment."

Shurtleff defended his description of the FLDS as a "Taliban-like organization," telling the symposium there is "no greater example of pure theocracy than the FLDS and the way they were functioning before, but mostly after, Warren Jeffs took over."

Jeffs, he said, isolated his followers, suppressed their freedom of speech and denied them access to communication and entertainment devices.

He also limited educational opportunities for most of his female followers, reassigned wives and took control of private property, Shurtleff said. Jeffs used a "God Squad" and group known as "The Sons of Helaman" to control and spy on people, he added.

The attorney general also said Winston Blackmore of Canada recently contacted him and asked for help getting his passport released so he could travel to Utah to participate in the property trust settlement talks. Blackmore, a former FLDS member, was charged in Canada with one count of polygamy earlier this month.

Shurtleff said he refused to intervene.



'Dust' references

"Shake the dust off" is a Biblical phrase attributed to Jesus Christ in several New Testament books. Luke 9:5 says: "And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them."

It can also be found in a revelation recorded by Joseph Smith in the Doctrine & Covenants, a Mormon scripture: "And in whatsoever place ye shall enter, and they receive you not in my name, ye shall leave a cursing instead of a blessing, by casting off the dust of your feet against them as a testimony, and cleansing your feet by the wayside."

Awaiting trial

Polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, who became president of the FLDS church in 2002, was charged and convicted of being an accomplice to rape in Utah in 2007 on the basis of an underage marriage he conducted. He is awaiting trial in Arizona on similar charges.

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