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State Seeks to Seize FLDS Compound

Abbott going after Jeffs' West Texas land
Jordan Smith, 9:58am, Wed. Nov. 28, 2012
Photo by Randy Mankin
A view of the FLDS' compound from the air, during construction of the group's first-ever temple

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott this morning announced that his office has initiated proceedings to seize West Texas land owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where the church built its first-ever temple back in 2005.

According to a lengthy affidavit filed on behalf of the state by AG's investigator Marcos Martinez, the FLDS purchased the roughly 1,700-acre property known as the Yearning for Zion ranch with ill-gotten gains and then used the property to run a polygamist community where children were systematically abused.

The FLDS moved to Texas in 2003 and lived in relative peace with the surrounding community of Eldorado until the state got a questionable phone tip claiming that children living at the compound were being sexually abused as part of the FLDS' participation in polygamy. The state went in and removed all the children found there, though the courts later rebuked the state's actions and sent the children back to live with their parents. Nonetheless, the AG subsequently pursued criminal charges against a dozen men living at the compound, including the FLDS' leader and prophet Warren Jeffs, who allegedly had among his many wives a 12-year-old girl.

Jeffs in 2011 was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child. The state now says that the ranch property is "contraband" because it was purposed and "intended" to be used to further the sexual assaults that Jeffs and his brethren were accused of. "[T]here is probable cause that past or present person, residing or affiliated with [the YFZ ranch] both known … and unknown … have engaged in, and/or acquired the property with the intent to commit, felony offenses upon the property and within the buildings and improvements of this property," reads the 91-page search warrant affidavit. Indeed, the affidavit quotes "Priesthood Records of Warren Steed Jeffs" in part to make the state's case: "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 records are," reads a Jeffs writing from September 2003, the year the YFZ property was purchased. "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 filing of the search warrant and affidavit paperwork is just the first step in the state's quest to take the FLDS property. The FLDS will be given a chance to oppose the measure and to submit evidence to counter the state's civil case against the group.

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