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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A judge on Thursday ordered federal prosecutors to wrap up of a review of documents seized during the arrest of polygamist church leader Warren Jeffs and return the papers and electronic equipment by July 2.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson also ordered federal lawyers not to share the papers with anyone, including lawyers for the sect's $110 million property trust which has a civil action pending against Jeffs.
Prosecutors are combing thousands of pages of letters and electronic documents for evidence in a criminal case against the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who was indicted in March on charges of flight to avoid prosecution.
The cache of evidence includes $54,000 in cash, hundreds of letters and papers, laptop computers, cell phones, debit cards and recording devices along with wigs, sunglasses and other items that could be used as disguises.
The contents of the letters and computer information aren't publicly known. "How much of it could be pertinent to a (flight) case?" Benson asked. "I guess there are some things in those documents that might be pertinent. I'm guessing 99 percent of it won't."
Jeffs was arrested in August 2006 during a traffic stop north of Las Vegas. He is currently in Utah's Washington County jail pending a state court trial on felony charges of rape as an accomplice involving an arranged marriage between a 14-year-old church follower and her 19-year-old cousin in 2001.
Per an agreement, a "taint team" of federal lawyers not directly connected to Jeffs' prosecution is sifting through the documents, separating privileged information from items that could be used of evidence.
In court filings, Jeffs' attorneys said the papers were sacred and included private communications and recorded religious revelations that should be kept secret. They said release of the documents would violate Jeffs' religious rights under the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. "These sacred revelations are at the core of the group's religious beliefs, and they cannot be shared with outsiders," Jeffs' attorney Wally Bugden writes.
Benson disallowed that argument Thursday and said attorneys failed to provide any specific examples and that the cleric-communicant or religious information issues can be raised once prosecutors have identified specific documents for evidence. United Effort Plan Trust attorneys think the documents may provide them with information about trust holdings and operations, something they've lacked since 2005 when a Utah court removed the $110 million property trust from Jeffs' control.
For two years, Jeffs has defaulted on court orders to provide the documents. The trust has subpoenaed the government for their release. "I don't want the government involved in this fight between the UEP and Mr. Jeffs," Benson said, adding he had a "sneaking suspicion that Mr. Jeffs' attorneys have somehow been using this court to delay whatever turnover requirements there are in the ongoing battle with the UEP."
Founded in 1942, the trust holds all the property and homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and also near Bountiful, British Columbia, where most of the estimated 10,000 FLDS members live. FLDS faithful practice polygamy in arranged "spiritual" marriages that often involve pairing teenage girls with older men.
On the Net: www.ueptrust.com
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)