PRINGLE – Neighbors of people who built a compound in a remote area southwest of Pringle say they were suspicious of the secretive group even before learning that it could be linked to a polygamist Mormon sect led by a federal fugitive.
They said heavy construction work goes on all night under big spotlights inside the fenced-off compound, which appears to be self-sufficient.
The 100-acre complex in southwestern Custer County is an outpost of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a polygamist sect led by federal fugitive Warren Jeffs, a Texas newspaper, The Eldorado Success, reported Wednesday.
Jeffs — considered a prophet by his followers — is wanted on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on an Arizona charge that he arranged a plural marriage between a 16-year-old girl and an older man who was already married.
The FLDS sect is headquartered in the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. The sect also has long had an enclave in British Columbia and in recent years has established outposts in Texas, Colorado and Nevada.
A private investigator who has followed the Jeffs trail said he believes the fugitive likely has hidden out at the South Dakota compound about 15 miles southwest of Pringle.
But an FBI official in Rapid City said no one has reported seeing Jeffs, 50, at the compound.
Bob Hadlock, who lives nearby, said he has no idea what Jeffs looks like. He said the people in the compound have little contact with anyone outside. He said only one man, named Jerald, speaks for the group, which includes women and children.
“I’ve been kind of suspicious of them all the time,” Hadlock said Thursday.
He said the people in the compound, whose numbers have been estimated at 60 or more, haven’t been bad neighbors, other than the constant noise of heavy equipment working and semi-trucks coming and going all through the night.
“They’re building something, I have no idea what,” Hadlock said. He said it’s hard to sleep with the racket. “It shakes the whole ground.”
Another neighbor, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retribution, said he has flown over the compound. “What I saw there startled me,” he said. “One aspect of it looks like it’s fortified with a deep trench and a metal fence coming out of the trench.”
However, Custer County officials say the group has done nothing wrong and has met all of its permit requirements.
The property was purchased in October 2003 for $135,000 by David Allred, president of Details Unlimited, based in Washington County, Utah, according to The Success newspaper. Allred also fronted the purchase of the FLDS’ YFZ Ranch in Texas. YFZ is believed to stand for the title of the song ‘Yearn For Zion,’ written by Jeffs.
The newspaper said Z-Trans trucks were seen coming and going from the Pringle area property. Z-Trans is registered in St. George, Utah, and its director, Robert Dockstader Allred, is a Jeffs’ follower.
The Success said it contacted Jon Krakauer, author of ‘Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith‘ about polygamist sects, who has been tracking Jeffs, and private detective Sam Brower, who works for several groups involved in lawsuits against the FLDS church. Brower also has worked for an attorney representing a court-appointed special fiduciary overseeing church assets. He documents activity involving church trust property.
Krakauer and Brower have scouted the South Dakota site and found that some of the buildings erected there were almost identical to residences at the Texas ranch. They said there also was a warehouse-type building onto which a large two-story office or residential section was being added.
Brower told a St. George television station Wednesday night that he is convinced Jeffs is using the South Dakota property as a ‘hideout,’ according to a story in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City. Jeffs told another station that Jeffs reportedly has been seen at the Pringle area complex. “I think he has been there. I think he has probably been there regularly,” Brower told the TV station.
But Bob Perry, supervisory senior resident agent of the Rapid City FBI office, said there is no evidence Jeffs has been at the Pringle location and no report of criminal activity. “We’ve gotten some people concerned that since this organization owns some property there that he may come to the area, but it’s recent news to us,” Perry said. “We’re just starting to get some information here.”
Perry said he had not visited the compound.
Perry said anyone with information about Jeffs’ whereabouts is asked to call the FBI office in Rapid City at 343-9632. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to Jeffs’ arrest and conviction.
Meanwhile, Custer County officials were besieged Thursday by newspaper and television reporters seeking information about the group.
Custer County planner Rex Harris said he didn’t realize until recent days that the group was connected to Jeffs.
“They’ve been quite exemplary in coming in and getting their permits,” Harris said.
The group was granted a wastewater permit and building permits, Harris said. The latest permit was issued to United Land Management, which lists a Custer post office box. David Allred turned the property over to United Land Management LLC in May 2004, according to records at the Custer County Register of Deeds office.
The compound now includes a barn, a detached garage, a 12,000-square-foot multi-use building and a lodge, Harris said. The complex also had two to three wells and two to three large generators, he said.
On Thursday, only a couple of men could be seen moving about the compound.
One neighboring landowner said he worried that the group has too many people for the facilities. “I’m concerned that they’ve misrepresented themselves to the county and are using the land to the detriment of the neighborhood as far as density, noise and possibly pollution.”
But Harris said county officials would be concerned only with whether the wastewater facilities are adequate. The county has no way of knowing how many people are in the compound or who they are because they keep to themselves, Harris said. “Nobody sees anybody.”