Jailed Warren Jeffs retakes FLDS presidency

The Salt Lake Tribune/February 23, 2011

At least two leaders in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have resigned their posts in what some former church members say is part of the expulsion of more than 30 people by jailed leader Warren S. Jeffs.

Jeffs, 55, took over legal control of the polygamous sect's corporate entity last week, according to documents filed with the Utah Department of Commerce. An imprisoned Jeffs handed the church's Corporation of the President to his first counselor, Wendell Nielsen, a year ago following Jeffs conviction on accomplice-to-rape charges.

Meanwhile, longtime Hildale Mayor David Zitting resigned his post last month, effective Tuesday.

"I've been mayor for 25 years," Zitting said Wednesday, by way of explanation. He declined further comment.

Though names and numbers couldn't be confirmed with members of the church, former members who still live in the communities say Jeffs exiled both Nielsen and Zitting, along with several other top leaders: Merril Jessop, head of the group's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas; James Oler, bishop of the group's Canadian settlement; and Terrill Johnson, mayor of Colorado City, Ariz.

Church spokesman Willie Jessop didn't return calls seeking comment.

The expulsions are coming directly from Jeffs, who is able to telephone the community from his cell, said Richard Holm, a former member of the FLDS who still lives in the area. It started about two months ago.

"He's been calling into their church, somehow piping [his voice] into the Sunday church meetings," Holm said.

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