Utah authorities looking into alleged FLDS child-bride marriages; Cult power struggle

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More allegations of underage marriages are surfacing involving the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It comes as a fight is brewing over leadership of the 10,000-member polygamous church and a dramatic turnabout of control of the church’s real-estate holdings arm.

Utah’s FOX 13 reports:

A pair of affidavits filed late last month with the British Columbia Supreme Court in Canada and obtained by Fox 13 allege dozens more child-bride marriages. The province’s high court is hearing closing arguments this week in a case that could decriminalize polygamy in that country.

The affidavits, written by Texas Ranger Nick Hanna, cite marriage records seized in the 2008 raid on the FLDS Church’s YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. They detail marriages going back to 1990 involving allegedly underage girls. Some of the marriages took place in Utah. […]

The affidavits have attracted the interest of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. In a recent interview with Fox 13, he said his investigators have been in regular contact with Texas authorities, who are prosecuting Warren Jeffs and other FLDS members on various crimes related to underage marriages coming out of the 2008 raid. […]

Meanwhile, Shurtleff told Fox 13 he fears a dispute over leadership of the FLDS Church could ultimately lead to a split within the polygamous sect.

William E. Jessop has filed papers with the Utah Department of Commerce claiming he is now the president of the FLDS Church. [Warren] Jeffs, through a follower, has maintained his control over the church.

It may be ultimately up to the courts to decide who is in charge.

“If Warren Jeffs does somehow keep in power and things get handed back over to them, we’ll continue to scrutinize it,” Shurtleff said. “If there’s crimes committed, if there are things we feel the state needs to get back involved in, we will.”

The power struggle comes as control over the land in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., may shift back to the FLDS Church. A federal judge on Friday signed an order clearing the way for management of the United Effort Plan Trust (UEP) to return to the FLDS bishop.

Shurtleff agreed to the plan, over the objection of Arizona’s attorney general and the court-appointed fiduciary of the UEP Trust. However, Shurtleff’s office and the others have filed an appeal of the decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

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This post was last updated: Nov. 22, 2013