One of his daughters, now 14, believed to be married to cult leader Warren Jeffs
Citing federal conspiracy and Mann Act investigations, YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination more than 250 times Friday, according to a transcript of the deposition obtained this morning by the Standard-Times.
Jessop, a top leader of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that runs the Schleicher County ranch, invoked the Fifth Amendment 267 times on questions as minor as whether he drives a car and as significant as whether his now-14-year-old daughter was involved in a sexual relationship with sect leader Warren Jeffs.
“Upon the advice of counsel, he’s exerting his Fifth Amendment (rights),” Jessop’s attorney, Amy Hennington, said early in the all-day Friday deposition. “The basis is that there is potential state investigation still ongoing, as well as criminal investigations under the Mann Act out of the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
The Mann Act prohibits the transportation of people across state lines for the purpose of sexual activity.
In a telephone hearing with 51st District Judge Barbara Walther over Jessop’s refusal to answer questions early in the proceeding, Hennington told the judge she had concerns about an ongoing federal investigation into alleged FLDS violations of the Mann Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO.
RICO can be used to prosecute organized crime, as well as wire and mail fraud.
The plethora of Fifth pleadings was the focus of a lengthy hearing Monday that stretched into the night, as Jessop and sect spokesman Willie Jessop, who are not closely related, took the stand to explain why they had refused to answer the vast majority of the questions asked of them.
Walther did not rule directly on Merril Jessop’s assertions, instead saying she would issue a written order. Such an order has not yet been made.
The deposition was conducted principally by Denton family law attorney Natalie Malonis, who has said she sought information about the sect’s finances in the hopes of providing financial means for her 17-year-old client, a daughter of Jeffs who sect documents say was married at age 15 to a 36-year-old son of Merril Jessop.
Jessop refused to answer all questions relating to the sect’s finances – including those apparently based on sect documents referring to efforts to create a trust in Texas with funds taken from the Utah-based United Effort Plan trust.
The Utah trust has been taken over by the courts after allegations that FLDS leaders were diverting funds for unauthorized uses, such as building the 140-acre Schleicher County ranch that authorities raided in early April.