ELDORADO, Texas — The attorney general has filed court papers seeking to seize the Fundamentalist LDS Church’s sprawling ranch, alleging it was used to further crimes against children.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday that polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was served with papers in prison, where he is serving a life sentence for child sex assault, related to underage marriages.
“The filing of a search and seizure warrant in the 51st State District Court begins the final chapter of the State’s nearly five-year effort to pursue widespread criminal misconduct at the YFZ Ranch,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.
A 91-page affidavit filed with the seizure notice alleges the FLDS Church’s “Yearning for Zion” ranch was used to facilitate crimes. It cited numerous writings by Jeffs, called “Priesthood Records,” about his desire for a refuge in Texas.
“We need to keep this particular property so private and sacred and secret that not even the faithful who are driven will know of this place, because this is where the sacred records are,” Jeffs said in one record. “The wicked, in their mind, feel like if they could destroy the records or get them turn over to the authorities, they could destroy us and they know there is laws, wicked laws, un-righteous laws passed by the government that could put us in jail, many of our people.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office cites the prosecution of a dozen members, including Jeffs, for crimes related to underage marriages.
“The Suspected Place and its improvements provided Jeffs and other FLDS members a secure location where they could obscure the fact that these serious felony crimes were being perpetrated. Further, said property aided the scheme perpetrated by Jeffs and his cohorts by allowing them to operate in a setting where it would be difficult for law enforcement authorities to detect their criminal conduct,” the affidavit said.
In addition to alleging bigamy, sexual assault and other crimes took place at the ranch, Texas prosecutors said Jeffs and other FLDS members laundered money to purchase the land, including many donations by individual church members. The affidavit made mention of investigations into the FLDS Church’s activities in Utah and Arizona.
The affidavit said efforts have been made to serve people at the YFZ ranch with papers, with no success. Beyond filing court documents, law enforcement was reported to be posting notices at the gates of the property outside Eldorado.
It is unknown how many people still live on the YFZ ranch in Texas. In 2008, the property was raided after authorities began investigating a phone call alleging abuse. The call itself is believed to be a hoax, but 435 children were taken into state custody when authorities raided the ranch. They were later ordered returned to their families after a pair of Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly.
A lawyer for FLDS members told FOX 13 they were exploring their legal options in response to the seizure notice.
“It’s hurting innocent people,” Rod Parker said of members who live on the YFZ Ranch. “The property was purchased with the tithing of the community, not ill gotten gains.”
The seizure notice could have an immediate impact on the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The land in those towns was seized by the courts in 2005 over allegations Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it. Since then, the United Effort Plan Trust has become mired in debt and legal battles. A town meeting on how to settle the seven and a half year legal feud is scheduled for Friday.