SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A large hay farm is being operated 30 miles north of Pioche, Nev., by followers of the fugitive leader of a polygamist cult, investigators and a former insider said.
Investigators are trying to determine if farm equipment and even buildings were illegally moved to the farm from the cult’s largest enclave which is on the Utah-Arizona border.
The Nevada operation, known as Atlanta Farms, was launched with the approval and direction of fugitive Warren Jeffs, Sterling Harker told KSL-TV in Salt Lake City.
“It’s all his doing,” said Harker, who KSL said was president of Harker Farms in Beryl, until Jeffs ousted him from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
After he was kicked out, Harker’s close relatives expanded Harker Farms into Nevada. They leased thousands of acres and have been operating it as an alfalfa hay farm for about two years.
Harker family members who run the Nevada farm refused a KSL request for interviews.
Satellite photos show a huge new building has been put up, and barracks or modular living quarters have been put in place that appear capable of accommodating dozens of workers and family members, KSL said in a story printed in the Deseret Morning News.
Private investigator Sam Brower said those operating Atlanta Farms are longtime FLDS members who are “zealously loyal to Warren Jeffs.”
Brower works for several groups involved in lawsuits against the church. He also was hired by an attorney representing a court-appointed special fiduciary overseeing church assets to document any activity involving church trust property.
Earlier this month, a Utah judge has granted a preliminary injunction blocking the removal of property from land owned by the FLDS church in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. A grain elevator, manufacturing building, potato cellar, irrigation pivots and other items reportedly vanished from the communities.
The church trust, which reportedly as assets worth more than $100 million, holds nearly all of the land in the two communities. In May, the Utah attorney general’s office asked the courts to remove the controlling trustees, because Jeffs and other church leaders purportedly used trust property to punish or reward church members for their obedience.
Jeffs is charged in Arizona with sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. The charges relate to the performing of child bride marriages. Jeffs is on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
Brower says more than 3,000 acres of alfalfa hay are under cultivation in Nevada. KSL said he would not specify his evidence, but he said he has learned that much of the money made in Nevada goes to the church, with some of it probably paying for the new FLDS compound under construction near Eldorado, Texas.
“He needs a large cash flow to support his extravagances, his buildings in Texas, the temple that he’s constructed,” Brower said. “And there is no cash flow in Texas.”
Spencer Hafen, Lincoln County commissioner in Pioche, worries that more polygamists might come and use their cheap labor pool to outbid locals for construction jobs.
“If they want to stay out there and farm, that’s one issue,” Hafen said. “But if they want to come in and bring more people, I’ll have a real problem with that.”