Willie Jessop invokes 5th more than 100 times in deposition

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/January 29, 2009

Three days after YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop pleaded the Fifth Amendment a jaw-dropping 267 times, another member of the polygamous group that owns the property racked up 110 Fifth pleadings during his own deposition, according to a rough draft of the transcript obtained by the Standard-Times.

William R. "Willie" Jessop - whose fiery denunciations of the state during its investigation of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have made him one of the sect's most recognizable figures - refused to answer numerous questions from Denton attorney Natalie Malonis in a proceeding that the transcript shows to be tense, if not volatile.

Jessop has not been indicted or charged in connection with this case, and he told Malonis that he has no children involved in the case.

Like the transcript of Friday's deposition of Merril Jessop, the Standard-Times received the Willie Jessop transcript anonymously through e-mail. Because the transcript of Monday's proceeding is a rough draft, containing essentially the raw translation of input from the court reporter, it was provided with the caveat that it not be quoted directly.

According to the transcript, at one point Malonis asked Jessop whether he had trouble understanding conversational English and entered into a series of questions about whether he was mentally disabled or taking medication after Jessop repeatedly said he did not understand a question about how he recognized Annette Jeffs, who was in the room.

According to the transcript, Malonis continued her efforts to gather information about the reclusive sect's finances in what she has described as an attempt to provide her 17-year-old client with the opportunity for autonomy once she turns 18 in July.

The girl is described in sect documents - including her own diary notations - as having been married just after her 15th birthday to the 36-year-old son of Merril Jessop.

Willie Jessop, who is not closely related to Merril Jessop, through his attorney, Kent Shaffer, invoked the Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination to a number of questions about his role in negotiations over the United Effort Plan trust, which has funded the sect in Utah but has since been taken over by the courts there.

He also refused to answer questions about his role as FLDS spokesman or who gave him the authority to address the media on behalf of the sect.

Shaffer cited state investigations that have led to 12 indictments on charges relating to alleged underage marriages and bigamy, as well as a federal investigation into alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization and Mann Acts. RICO, as it is known, is used to target alleged organized crime, while the Mann Act prohibits transporting people across state lines for illegal sexual activity and is used to prosecute mail fraud and wire fraud.

Merril Jessop's attorney, Amy Hennington, also cited those aspects of the sealed federal search warrant issued in April in pleading the Fifth for her client Friday, although Shaffer on Monday also listed money laundering as an aspect of the federal investigation.

The investigations were launched April 3 with a joint raid by the state's Child Protective Services agency and the Texas Rangers in what became the nation's largest child-custody case.

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