Two Colorado men face criminal charges for allegedly stealing property from a secretive polygamous compound in South Dakota, and one of the men faces additional charges for guns and drugs he allegedly possessed when he was caught.
The two men are Wade Eli Bird, 29, of Sugar City, Colorado, and Wesley Michael Reber, 31, of Centennial, Colorado. According to prosecutor Tracy Kelley, who is the state’s attorney of Custer County, neither man is affiliated with the compound or the religious sect to which inhabitants of the compound belong.
Kelley said the two men viewed the compound as “a target of opportunity.”
After Bird was arrested on Jan. 31, 2018, he was questioned by Custer County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Tramp, who filed a report in which he recounted Bird’s motive.
“He stated that he and his friend ‘Wes’ were at the ‘compound’ to ‘f--- with the polygamists,” Tramp wrote (Tramp’s report included an obscene word, the final three letters of which are omitted here).
Tramp’s report said Bird and Reber allegedly tried to steal several trailers and a skid-steer loader from the compound controlled by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is known by the abbreviation FLDS and is a breakaway Mormon group that condones polygamy and has members in numerous communities in the United States and Canada, including Colorado.
The 140-acre FLDS compound in South Dakota — which has several dorm-like buildings, numerous additional structures and a watchtower — is near the edge of a canyon in a remote part of Custer County, about 15 miles southwest of the small town of Pringle. The compound is split by a public road that leads to a non-FLDS-owned cabin, and the compound is fenced and gated on both sides of the road.
Although several observers of the compound have speculated that its population — once rumored in the hundreds — has dwindled significantly in recent years, public records show that the compound used 13.63 million gallons of water in 2018, which was more than any other year since the compound began sending required water-usage reports to state regulators in 2008.
The alleged burglary and theft at the compound by Bird and Reber is detailed in a transcript of Bird’s preliminary hearing, which was conducted April 3 in the Custer County Courthouse in Custer.
Lt. Steve McMillin, of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office, testified during the hearing that he had obtained a search warrant and conducted a search of Bird’s cell phone. McMillin said GPS locations, photographs and text messages on the phone indicated Bird had visited the compound — perhaps to conduct reconnaissance — as early as Jan. 15, 2018.
Then, on Jan. 21, 2018, Bird and Reber were allegedly on compound property when they were discovered and confronted by Helaman Jeffs, an apparent FLDS member who said during his testimony at the preliminary hearing that he oversees the compound.
Jeffs testified that one of the men — later identified as Bird — falsely identified himself as Wes Steed and said he had been sent to the compound to get trailers belonging to Clyde Jessup or Seth Jeffs (the surnames Steed, Jessup and Jeffs are common among FLDS members, and Seth Jeffs, who is Helaman Jeffs’ uncle, formerly oversaw the South Dakota compound).
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Helaman Jeffs testified that he did not believe the intruder’s explanation, so Helaman called his uncle, Seth Jeffs, and also called law enforcement to report the intruders. Helaman Jeffs also testified that he told both men to leave the compound, and after they did, Jeffs discovered that one of the compound’s trailers had been moved.
Ten days later, on the morning of Jan. 31, 2018, according to Jeffs, he noticed movement in one of the compound’s security-camera feeds and went to check on it. He testified that he encountered Reber in a pickup pulling one of the compound’s trailers, and Reber sped away.
Jeffs then called law enforcement. Lt. McMillin responded to the compound, and a neighbor’s tip led McMillin and Jeffs to discover a trailer and skid-steer loader from the compound that had been moved and abandoned just outside a section of the compound’s barbed-wire fence, which appeared to have been cut. Jeffs and McMillin also discovered that a door to the compound’s storehouse had been pried open.
Meanwhile, Deputy Tramp had also responded to Jeffs’ call and was driving west on 18 Mile Road when he encountered Bird driving east in a pickup. Tramp turned around, caught up with Bird’s pickup and pulled it over on state Highway 89.
Tramp testified that Bird initially identified himself as William Todd Ansel Davis. It wasn’t until later, when Sheriff Marty Mechaley arrived and Tramp and Mechaley searched the pickup, that a photo ID was found in the pickup’s center console and Bird’s true identity was determined.
An initial search of the pickup and a later, more thorough search after a warrant was obtained allegedly turned up items including some tools stolen from the compound, two loaded handguns, methamphetamine, LSD and drug paraphernalia.
Lt. McMillin testified that some of the video files found on Bird’s phone were incriminating.
“He actually took the phone out and conveniently photographed him unhooking the trailer by the skid-steer and taking off after a blue Ford Ranger showed up,” says the transcript of McMillin’s testimony. The Ford Ranger was driven by a neighbor of the compound.
Reber escaped capture but was subsequently apprehended in Colorado, where he is facing separate and apparently unrelated charges of violating a protection order and being a fugitive from justice. Kelley said she hopes to eventually extradite him back to South Dakota, where he is charged with third-degree burglary, attempted grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft.
Bird is facing a long list of charges in South Dakota, including third-degree burglary; attempted grand theft; conspiracy to commit grand theft; first-degree petty theft; unauthorized possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute; unauthorized possession of a controlled substance; carrying a concealed weapon without a permit; false impersonation with intent to deceive a law enforcement officer; and driving with a revoked license.
Bird pleaded not guilty and posted bail in the form of a $35,000 bond, but he is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing in the coming weeks.
Bird’s attorney, Paul Andrews, of Rapid City, said Bird is not affiliated with the FLDS but otherwise declined to answer the Journal’s questions about the case.