FLDS cult’s ranch to be seized

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The state of Texas is one step closer to seizing the Yearning For Zion Ranch — a 1,691 acres property owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Under Texas law, law enforcement can try to seize property that was used to commit or facilitate certain criminal conduct.

The church — theologically a sect of the Mormon Church, and sociologically a high-control cult — is headed by Warren Jeffs.

In August 2011 Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church considered to be “spiritual marriages.”

A number of Jeffs’ followers have also been prosecuted for crimes committed at the sect’s ranch.

Ranch raided

On April 3, 2008, Texas authorities raided the ranch and took 400 children in protective custody after receiving a phone call — later determined to have been a hoax — in which the caller claimed she was forced to have sex and was beaten regularly.

Texas courts later rejected arguments that the group’s belief system is itself a dangerous form of abuse and later ordered the children to be returned to their parents.

Dozen men, including cult leader, convicted

However, 12 men — including the cult’s leader, Warren Jeffs — were indicted for crimes including child sexual assault, bigamy and performing an illegal marriage.

Much of the evidence used to convict the men came from materials seized during a search of the cult’s sacred temple — which is located on the property.

While many people are familiar with the raid on the FLDS’ Texas compound, few know the background, and fewer still understand the full extent of what took place at the Yearning For Zion ranch. In this NBC Dateline program Rebecca Musser tells her story of how she was married to the Prophet Rulon Jeffs then escaped the FLDS. Rebecca was later the key witness in the trials of Warren Jeffs that got him life in prison. Starting at minute 34, the Texas ranch is discussed — including what crime scene investigators found hidden in the FLDS’ temple.

Once all those indicted were prosecuted, the Texas Attorney General’s Office moved to seize the ranch. [Note that the State spent more than $4.5 million on the prosecutions]

Legal documents

In legal documents — including a 91-page affidavit, along with a search and seizure warrant — submitted when the State first moved to seize control of the ranch, a law enforcement officer describes how proceeds from illegal activities were used to purchase the ranch.

The State also says that FLDS leaders bought the ranch in a failed attempt to establish a remote outpost where they could insulate themselves from criminal prosecution for sexually assaulting children.

Last Monday, Texas District Judge Barbara Walther issued a default judgment in favor of the State, because no one representing Warren Jeffs showed up in court.

Leaders of the FLDS Church and the United Order of Texas Trust now have 30 days to appeal the judgment before it becomes final.

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This post was last updated: Jan. 10, 2014