A fight for control of a polygamous sect intensified Thursday as leaders filed documents to keep jailed leader Warren Jeffs in charge of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
William E. Jessop — the man Warren Jeffs once pointed to as the group’s true prophet — filed paperwork Monday to take legal control of the sect’s corporate entity.
Jessop’s filing came one month after Jeffs reassumed control of the FLDS presidency — a position from which the cult leader resigned in December 2007, shortly after he was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison for being an accomplice to rape within a child-bride marriage.
After that conviction was overturned on a technicality last July, Jeffs was extradited to Texas where he faces sexual assault and bigamy charges stemming from alleged marriages to one girl under 17 and another under age 14.
While he has been jailed for most of the past four years Jeffs, whom followers consider to be the prophet of God, has kept tight control over his sect.
Right after he reassumed control as president of the FLDS’ corporate entity last month he ousted dozens of key leaders.
Since then there have been rumors that some of the ousted leaders were planning to challenge Jeffs’ leadership, either by launching a coup attempt or by starting a rival polygamist group.
While awaiting trial in January of 2007, Jeffs told family and key sect members he had never been a prophet and named William E. Jessop as the faith’s rightful leader. That jail-house conversation was captured on video tape.
However, as the Salt Lake Tribune reports,
Boyd L. Knudson, the registered agent of the church’s Corporation of the President, sought to cancel out papers filed Monday seeking to replace Jeffs with church elder William E. Jessop as president and presiding bishop.
Jessop “has filed false documents … [he] has never been upheld by the church congregation as president,” Knudson wrote in Thursday’s filing. “Common consent is required by the church.”
The filing includes affidavits from four church leaders who said they were part of a February congregation of about 4,000 people who stood and “raise[d] their arms and voices unanimously sustaining President Warren Steed Jeffs as standing in the highest quorum of the church as its president.”
Lyle S. Jeffs, bishop of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah; church patriarch Vaughan E. Taylor; and counselors in the bishopric John M. Barlow and Ray M. Barlow signed the affidavits.
Commerce spokeswoman Jennifer Bolton said Tuesday that if Jeffs, 55, mounted a challenge to Jessop, the department’s Division of Corporations would place a “hold” on Jessop’s papers and grant both sides up to 30 days to prove their right to the presidency.
If it can’t be resolved, the state will ask the courts to settle the matter. A legal loss for Jessop would mean the church’s presidency reverts back to Jeffs.
Jessop says he is only stepping forward now because he believes he can help provide the church with the leadership it needs while Jeffs is incarcerated.
Jeffs assumed the role as FLDS prophet and president in September 2002 following the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs, who suffered a series of strokes.
His rise to power has been questioned by former church members who say there was no succession plan in place when the elder Jeffs died. They say Rulon Jeffs had preached that the second coming of Jesus Christ was imminent, and therefore no one would need to lead the church in the future.