ST. GEORGE, Utah – A man who was once spokesperson for Warren Jeffs is now in control of his Hildale polygamous compound. The six-acre property was auctioned of Thursday as part of a court judgment in a lawsuit between former spokesperson Willie Jessop and FLDS leaders.
Dozens of people gathered on the steps of the Washington County Courthouse, but the auction itself took just a few minutes. One bid, a combined $3.6 million, bought the property, loaded with several buildings, warehouse and a school.
"That particular project owes an accountability," says Jessop. "His company R&W Excavating and I think everyone in the community is owed some explanations as to why it was built."
The compound was finished in 2010, after Jeffs was already imprisoned on charges of child rape. Jessop says the majority of the buildings were never used, but were intended as a place for illegal church activity.
"The sole purpose of what we found at the [Yearning for Zion] ranch that brought about the raid and a lot of other issues that were uncovered down there that ultimately ended up with little girls being raped by church leaders," says Jessop.
There won't be an exchange of money in the ownership exchange. The property was seized by the court to pay Jessop's cash judgment. A judge awarded Jessop $30 million. Payment for the compound will be deducted from that judgement.
"This is what we expected, we would have liked other bidders obviously to come," says Jessop's attorney Mark James. "Candidly for my client, I think it would have been much easier to deal with money."
Jessop says he still doesn't know exactly what he'll do with the property. He says the high walls will likely come down so the community can see what Jeffs was trying to hide. Ultimately he says he'd like to make it into a place the entire community can benefit from.
But Hildale residents are skeptical. Amid distrust of many former FLDS leaders, they just hope the property does benefit a community that is trying to heal.
"It all sounds good what Willie says in theory. But will he do that?" says former FLDS member Ross Chatwin. "Is it really going to be for the people? Or is it going to be for some personal gain here?"
Jessop will take ownership of the property immediately.