Former FLDS President avoids prison

The former president of a polygamous sect pleaded no contest to three counts of third-degree bigamy this week and was sentenced to 10 years probation.

The Standard-Times, in San Angelo, Texas says

Wendell Loy Nielsen, who was once president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, had been indicted after a raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008 by law enforcement looking for someone claiming sexual abuse at the ranch.

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Twelve men were indicted as a result of evidence collected from the ranch, on charges such as child sexual assault, bigamy and performing an illegal ceremony.

Nine men have now been sentenced for charges of sexual assault and bigamy.

A third-degree felony is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Nielsen is the first FLDS member with charges resulting from the ranch raid to receive a probated sentence. Punishments have ranged from six years to life in prison.

Part of the plea deal included waiving the right to appeal, Nielsen’s Austin attorney David Botsford said. […]

Two other men have pleaded no contest to charges of bigamy, Lehi Barlow Jeffs and Michael Emack, in April 2010. They received sentences of seven and eight years in prison.

The next scheduled trial of an FLDS member is for Fredrick Merril Jessop, who is charged with conducting an illegal ceremony in connection with an underage marriage. His trial is set for Monday in Coke County.

Jessop was indicted on charges that he conducted a ceremony prohibited by law by marrying an underage girl — one of his daughters — to Warren Jeffs, the church head of the FLDS in 2006.

Last August a Texas jury convicted polygamist Jeffs of child sexual assault Thursday in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his FLDS sect calls “spiritual marriages.” He was sentenced to life in prison.

One of Jessop’s former wives, Carolyn Jessop, has written a book about her experienced in — and escape from — the FLDS cult.

Nielsen was reported excommunicated — along with several other FLDS leaders — in February this year, when the cult’s jailed leader retook his position as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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