FLDS church denies anti-polygamist claims of new community near Eldorado
ST. GEORGE — The three-story houses with pitched roofs look every bit rustic, boxy and over-sized, much like many never-completed buildings in Colorado City.
But these are under construction 1,200 miles away in the hilly country north of Eldorado, a Texas town of 2,000 people about 200 miles northwest of San Antonio.
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Surrounded by fences and shrubs, the compound is not accessible to the public, said John Nikolauk, Eldorado’s mayor of 15 years. Several residents have seen cars with Utah and Arizona plates come and go, he said, but the builders remain a mystery to townsfolk.
“They are out in the country, not visible from any highways,” Nikolauk said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I don’t know who they are.”
But Flora Jessop, an anti-polygamy activist who has distributed to the media pictures of three completed houses in Eldorado, said she is sure the compound is built for Warren Jeffs, the reclusive prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the largest polygamist group in America. With 1,371 acres, activists said, the property has at least three more houses under construction, which all stand at 40 to 50 feet wide and 60 to 80 feet long.
Jeffs, 48, who commands an estimated 10,000 followers in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah., has long been rumored to be building a compound in Mexico, whose border is 90 miles south of Eldorado. With an estimated 50 wives, Jeffs is believed to claim main residence in a cluster of motel-like houses in Hildale, which are surrounded by 8-foot reddish brick walls.
“This new encampment is going to make it easier for them to traffic girls to/from Mexico, the same as they have been doing to Canada,” Jessop said in a news release Wednesday. “We would like to see President Bush start to stand up and protect the women and children terrorized on American soil like he does for those in other countries. This American Taliban must be stopped.”
Both Utah and Arizona prosecutors are investigating what they say is welfare and tax fraud, incest, child abuses and the forced marriages of young girls to adult men. Anti-polygamy activists also claim FLDS church leaders often traffic young girls between Colorado City and Bountiful, Canada, where there is a second FLDS camp.
Jessop, who was first alerted by an Eldorado resident about the Texas compound, scheduled a news conference today at noon in front of the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office in Eldorado, Texas. Reached by phone before a flight from Phoenix to Texas on Wednesday night, she would not say who took the pictures of the compound.
Jeffs rarely grants interviews. But Rod Parker, a longtime attorney for the FLDS church, said Jessop’s news release contains “wide exaggerations.”
“We are hired as lawyers to defend the property in Colorado City,” said Parker, who has filed several lawsuits against excommunicated FLDS members who refused to leave their houses on church property. “The suggestion that they plan to move away from their houses doesn’t match the fact.”
Asked if it’s possible that Jeffs plans to keep his stronghold in Colorado City while trying to expand to new territories, Parker said he would not speculate.
As the county seat of Schleicher County, population 3,500, Eldorado is an agriculture town with sheep, goats and a little bit of oil, Nikolauk said. The new compound, which is not in the city boundary, could be a corporation retreat, he said, or “could be some crazy bunch of folks wanting some privacy.” But whatever the purpose, he has “no idea” about its economic benefit to the community.
“They are pretty self-sufficient,” Nikolauk said. “If they are a legitimate bunch of people, we welcome anybody.”
The compound’s construction workers make their own concrete, said Jay Beswick, a child abuse advocate who has helped women flee Colorado City. Jessop said the builder is David Steed Allred, who registered a business, Dave’s Builders, on Bluff Street in St. George.
Allred, whose grandmother was Jeffs’ aunt, has been a staunch supporter of the prophet, who has recently excommunicated at least 30 men from the church.
“He is one of Warren’s total supporters,” said a Colorado City resident, who insisted his name not be used for this article. “He will do whatever Warren wishes him to do without questioning.”
Allred couldn’t be reached at his Colorado City number Wednesday. His business is not listed in St. George.
With the increased media attention in the western Texas town, Nikolauk said Eldorado’s laid-back residents are seeing things as they happen.
“We kind of take things in the stride here,” he said. “We are not too fazed with fame.”