Texas authorities move to seize FLDS cult ranch

The State of Texas on Wednesday took steps to seize the 1,691 acres Yearning For Zion ranch where underage girls were involved in marriages to adult followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).

Theologically the FLDS is a cult of Mormonism. Sociologically the group, believed to have some 10,000 members, is a cult as well.

In August, 2011, the cult’s leader, Warren Jeffs, was sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison after his conviction for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed “spiritual marriages.”

Evidence obtained during 2008 raid

On April 3, 2008, Texas authorities raided the ranch and took 400 children in protective custody.

The raid was sparked by what was later determined to have been a hoax phone call in which the caller claimed she was forced to have sex and was beaten regularly.

Texas courts rejected arguments that the group’s belief system is itself a dangerous form of abuse and later ordered the children to be returned to their parents.

However, 12 men — including the cult’s leader, Warren Jeffs — were indicted for crimes including child sexual assault, bigamy and performing an illegal marriage.

All have now been prosecuted, but it is believed that Canadian authorities are also investigating allegations that underaged girls have been trafficked between the sect’s Canadian outpost and US bases for the purpose of ‘spiritual marriages’ to older FLDS men.

Much of the evidence used to convict the men came from materials seized during a search of the cult’s sacred temple — one of many buildings on the sect’s property.

Under Texas law, law enforcement can try to seize property that was used to commit or facilitate certain criminal conduct.

Authorities say compound’s temple used to commit crimes

A press release from the Attorney General’s office says

In a 91-page affidavit that was submitted to the court along with the search and seizure warrant, a law enforcement officer with the Texas Attorney General’s Office describes how proceeds from illegal activity were used to purchase the ranch, which FLDS leaders bought in a failed attempt to establish a remote outpost where they could insulate themselves from criminal prosecution for sexually assaulting children.

According to ABC News

Authorities say Jeffs used the compound’s temple to commit his crimes, saying it “was constructed in a special manner so that Warren Steed Jeffs could perpetuate sexual assaults in the Temple building.”

And they quote from Jeffs’ own designs and the group’s “Priesthood Records”: “There is a table, but it will be made so it can be a table or it can be a bed. It should be made so the tabletop can come off. It will be on wheels€¦ This will be made so that it can be taken apart and stored in a closet where no one can see it. When I need it, I will pull it out and set it up€¦ It will be covered with a sheet, but it will have a plastic cover to protect the mattress from what will happen on it.”

Authorities detail Jeffs in his own words to make their case that the compound’s very existence was centered around protecting criminal activity.

The Associated Press says

Rod Parker, a Nevada attorney for the FLDS, did not immediately return a phone message Wednesday from The Associated Press. He told the Salt Lake Tribune that it seemed the state’s purpose was to take the land and sell it to the highest bidder, which would result in sect members living at the ranch likely being evicted.

“They’re punishing the victims. These aren’t the people who committed the crimes,” Parker told the newspaper.

When a court hearing is scheduled, “FLDS will be given an opportunity to oppose the seizure and submit evidence supporting its case,” a news release from Abbott’s office stated. The proceeding is a civil, not criminal, matter.

In a post on her Polygamy Blog at the Salt Lake Tribune, Lindsay Whitehurts has some questions about the proposed seizure, including:

  • What does Texas have to prove to win ownership of the trust? Do they have to show that everyone who bought/worked on the ranch knew Jeffs and others were sexually assaulting underage girls?
  • Over the last five months or so, just about everyone has cleared out of the ranch, apparently to smaller FLDS outposts and houses of hiding around the country. How does that change the dynamic? Does it make it more difficult to investigate potential ongoing problems? […]
  • What the heck is the state of Texas going to do with a 1,600-acre ranch, complete with an enormous limestone temple and open-air auditorium, in the middle of nowhere?

Observers say Warren Jeffs continues his iron-fisted rule over members of his cult from prison.

Read the Search And Seizure Warrant and Affidavit

Search and Seizure Warrant PDF file
Affidavit for Search and Seizure Warrant PDF file

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See Also

Texas spent $4.5M+ on FLDS prosecutions
Yearning For Zion: From Hunting Ground To Polygamist Ranch
Research resources on the FLDS

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday November 29, 2012.
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