State officials seek to curb leader’s funds
Lawyers representing the attorneys general of Arizona and Utah plan to be in court today in Salt Lake City to support moves to strip the head of the nation’s largest polygamist community of his greatest political and financial assets.
A civil hearing in Utah’s 3rd Judicial District Court will be largely procedural, but represents a significant step in efforts to curb the power and influence of Warren Jeffs, self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Jeffs, 49, commands unquestioned loyalty from an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 FLDS followers clustered in two communities astride the Arizona-Utah state line north of the Grand Canyon. He controls virtually all property, jobs and political influence in the twin towns through a religious and charitable trust known as the United Effort Plan.
Today’s court hearing involves a request to consolidate motions filed by two different groups seeking to remove Jeffs from control of the UEP.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and his Utah counterpart, Mark Shurtleff, filed formal notices earlier this year to be recognized as “interested parties” in the cases. The attorneys general told the court they feared the trust’s assets were in danger of being siphoned off and used by individuals rather than for the good of sect members.
Those fears were based in part on the fact that Jeffs hasn’t been seen at his compound in Hildale, Utah, for months and is believed to be in Texas on a 1,691-acre ranch purchased in November 2003 by one of his closest aides.
The Texas ranch, known as YFZ for a song Jeffs once wrote called Yearn For Zion, is being developed into a mini-town with three 28,000-square-foot dormitories, an industrial-size barn and chicken coop, sprawling crop fields and a massive 80-foot-high stone temple, surrounded by smaller buildings and workshops.
David Allred, the same Jeffs aide who purchased the Texas land, also bought a 60-acre parcel near Mancos, Colo., around the same time and erected several new buildings on the property.
Several months after the land purchases, Jeffs was named in a pair of lawsuits filed in Salt Lake City, accusing him of sodomizing his own underage nephew, covering up serial sexual molestations by fellow FLDS leaders and ruining the lives of scores of young men and boys who were forced from the sect because they were perceived as a threat to older men seeking to marry plural brides.
The plaintiffs in both suits have filed petitions to remove Jeffs from control of the UEP trust, which controls virtually all real estate and financial holdings in the twin communities of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz.
William A. Richards, senior litigation counsel for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, said he would attend today’s hearing at which attorneys for the two groups that brought the lawsuits will ask a judge to consolidated their requests to remove Jeffs from control of the trust.
The lawsuits were brought by Jeffs’ nephew, Brent Jeffs, and six young men who claimed they were among hundreds whose lives were ruined when they were forced out of the sect.
Investigators have tried for months, without success, to find Jeffs and to serve him with legal documents in the two suits.
If the motion to consolidate is granted today, the judge could order Jeffs to appear in court to argue why he should remain in control of the trust. That would put Jeffs in the awkward position of having to finally appear in court or risk losing his greatest financial and political power base.
In the past, Jeffs has been represented in court by a Salt Lake City law firm, but those attorneys announced they were withdrawing their representation shortly after the two lawsuits were filed last summer. It remains unclear if Jeffs has hired new counsel.