It was a routine traffic stop in the scrub desert outside Las Vegas that finally caught Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet, polygamist and one of the FBI's most wanted. The leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a deeply isolated Mormon sect in northern Arizona and southern Utah, Jeffs faces charges of accessory to rape after arranging the marriage of two under-age girls to older men. But he may also be charged with bigamy, a rare charge in the notorious polygamist havens of Arizona and Utah.
Although bigamy laws are on the books in every state — with penalties ranging from class A misdemeanors to class C felonies — the statutes are rarely enforced, and the subject had escaped attention on the pop-cultural front until the recent HBO series Big Love. Now, with the notoriety of Jeffs and his followers, state prosecutors are making a hard switch from the live-and-let-live attitude and convicting bigamists more often, usually in connection with other crimes like welfare fraud and incest.
For example, Utah officials convicted fellow FDLS member and Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm of one felony count of bigamy and two counts of unlawful sexual conduct in 2003 stemming from his marriage to an under-age girl. Ohio and Kentucky have also recently convicted bigamists in high-profile cases. And after the national talk show host Dr. Phil invited several bigamists to a 2005 program, North Carolina police arrested one of the guests, Charles Edward Hicks, on bigamy charges. Then, just months later, Virginia police arrested him again on another bigamy charge.
According to news accounts, 61-year-old Hicks was married to seven wives in almost as many states, using personal dating sites to find his women. In his profile, he told potential mates: "I love to love."